Rumour as a Weapon: The Case of the “Stolen Children”

The author contends that the recent wave of false rumors concerning the kidnapping of Venezuelan children is part of a campaign of psychological warfare aimed at destabilizing the Bolivarian government. 


Different media outlets and social media accounts have been stirring up a series of rumours, alleged confirmations and pseudo-confirmations regarding several cases of child abduction, with some even providing an astonishing level of detail. However, outside of the realm of the corporate media, no reports have been filed with either state security forces or with the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Since the end of February and the beginning of March, rumours have been circulating in the exceedingly malleable world of Facebook and through chains in other networks such as Blackberry Pin and Whatsapp Chat.

Today, March 24th, a ridiculous protest was reported in Petare (in the East of Caracas) denouncing the attempted abduction of a child, without a shred of evidence confirming this or other cases. The logic of the Tweeting middle classes assume it to be true, simply because it happened “there” in Petare (working class neighbourhood/barrio) without it even being verified.

Similarly, there has been no obstacle to the miserly news outlet Maduradas or Dollar today talking of a “wave of kidnappings”.

“Insecurity”: A revived matrix of opinion

It’s important to emphasise that from the 16th to the 20th of March, the written opposition press vigorously resurrected the issue of insecurity. This topic accounted for 44% of written reports in these media outlets, on top of 112 articles fuelling this matrix of opinion by way of analysis, opinion or investigative pieces.   

The most prevalent descriptions were the following: the “dead” and “murder,” which were repeated with a frequency of 18% and 17%. Words such as “deaths,” “morgue,” “shots,” and “murder” took the opposition press headlines by storm last weekend.

The “formula behind these machinations,” devised by the master of Nazi propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, is advancing with all the brilliance that a new cycle of morbid media attacks against the Bolivarian Revolution merits: manufacture small ideas, repeat them to death, present them from different perspectives (opinion, rumour, gossip, “investigation” etc.) and from there on, develop a general discursive atmosphere that serves to validate the lie.

The lie to be corroborated at this particular moment is the supposed “abductions and kidnappings” of children. The media operation has been planned from the large media outlets (El Universal and El Nacional) with the objective of lending “authenticity” and at the same time the illusion of “truthfulness” to the reports that they themselves have invented and generated, in order to unleash a climate of tension, stress, intimidation and social paranoia corresponding to the short news reports which have been repeated over and over again in advance. Aimed at bestowing the rumours and convulsions in the media with the token of legitimacy that can only be provided by the disastrous, mafia like, and deceitful “freedom of the press”.  

The Precedent in the Media

Two days ago El Universal published an extensive investigative piece on violence within the demographics of children and adolescents in Venezuela. The alarming figures which were given to readers were taken from NGOs (COFAVIC and CECODAP) which, in turn, write their reports on “violence” in Venezuela based on opposition news sources, namely, El Universal and others.

The regurgitation of the lies and the distortion of the statistics, in this sense, are pretty efficient in sustaining a set of psychological operations. The idea of the aforementioned investigation is exceptionally clear: children are the target that should be pursued in order to begin a new cycle of tension and social intimidation in the media.

El Nacional, for its part, also emphasised the “situation of violence” that befalls children and adolescents in Venezuela following the death of Kluiverth Roa [14 year-old student who was killed during violent protests in the opposition stronghold of Tachira by a police officer now arrested and facing charges]. The figures are almost the same as those used by El Universal, but they have an addition which it is important to point out: a good number of these homicides are alleged to have been carried out by state security forces.

The formula behind the machinations appears once again, but now it is more advanced. At once, the opposition propaganda machine signals the “guilty party” (“the regime”) which can be blamed for any unfortunate event that arises in the future in relation to the issue.

Now that the tension surrounding the issue and the guilty party have been established, the only thing missing to tie up all the loose ends is their usual distinctive signature of death which they avidly keep in store.

Rumours and Chain Messages

Once the communicational matrix had been set up by the rightwing media emporiums, there was no delay in the appearance of rumours and text messages chains.

The objective is to generalise a sense of panic and fear amongst the people below, in accordance with what the people above are saying. It is a psychological operation which is aimed at shaking up the public, increasing levels of unease and anguish amongst parents as well as contributing to the development of a collective paranoia. It is also an attempt to justify through the media an act of social disturbance over the following days. In this way, those who began the morbid media stampede, who are totally devoted to the irregular warfare being waged against Venezuela, can dress themselves up as “heroes of the truth”.

Some of the chains and rumours being circulated through Whatsapp are the following:

Don’t send your children unaccompanied to the store, neighbour’s house or any other place unless you believe it to be very close. Constant parental supervision is important.

If you take your child to the park, make sure that they stay within a controlled area and don’t let them out of your sight. Make sure they are wearing an attention grabbing, brightly coloured piece of clothing. This will allow them to be easily identified.

Remove stickers and labels that say “baby on board” from your car, this can turn you into a possible victim, making it easier for perpetrators to locate children and complete their mission.

Don’t put your child’s name anywhere visible, such as in bags and even less on a shirt. This increases the risk of the kidnapper calling your child by their name and the child thinking that he is an acquaintance.  

Primary and preschool teachers have also joined in the media paranoia at several schools, demanding that parents collect their children early in the face of the supposed “danger” that infants are running.

Corroborated Lies

El Nacional and El Universal had the campaign coordinated at all levels. When the rumours and chains began to intensify, they immediately published an account of recent violent events in which young people were directly involved. Although this might not have a direct link to the specific matrix of opinion which they are trying to establish (the supposed kidnapping of children), it still helps to revive the principle of exaggerating and disfiguring reality. A reality in which everything is related, and especially when using the key words (“death,” “murder,” “shot”),which contribute different elements to the same scenario.

In this sense, the Spanish documentary “On Hostile Ground,” promoted by the channel Antena 3 fits the scenario that they are trying to bring to life like a hand in a glove. Nothing is the product of coincidence, and even less so in the media war.

However the lie has extremely poor foundations. The directors of the CICPC [Venezuela’s criminal investigations body] have received no reports, nor have Polimiranda [Police in Miranda state]. The Secretary of Public Security in Lara hasn’t heard anything either. Equally, the Secretary of Public Security in Zulia has not registered a single report.

In this sense, the journalists that routinely dance to the rhythm of whatever is the matrix of opinion du jour, don’t even practice the kind of journalism that other media outlets such as NTN24 promote.

Ocariz [Opposition Mayor of Sucre, East Caracas] and Polisucre [Sucre Police] also exposed the rumours as lies (via Twitter).

“We are informing citizens: neither @polisucre_pms nor in the Sucre Division of the CICPC have received formal reports of kidnapped children. We are on the alert! – Carlos Ocariz (@CarlosOcaruz) marzo 24 2015.

The Director of Polisucre, Chief Inspector Manuel Furelos, announced that there is no register or report of any child abduction in this organism – Sucre Police (@polisucre_pms) March 24 2015.

However, there is never a lack of gatecrashers coming out with absurdities, providing an irresponsible chorus of support to those who set up the laboratories where they try to corroborate what is being said, knowing full well what they do and exactly where they can have an impact through such attempts.

“Worrying: the motive behind the motorbike protest is the kidnapping of children from schools. They say that it won’t even be covered in the press,” Freddy Guevara (@FreddyGuevaraC) March 24 2015.

[National Assembly President] Diosdado Cabello has claimed that [rightwing fugitive] J.J. Rendon is behind the rumours. Yet another psychological operation.