Publications

In the countdown to Mexico’s presidential election, a network of automated Twitter accounts has been pushing partisan messages which appear to have been paid for by local political groups.

The bots appear purely mercenary, promoting hashtags which attack all sides. They are linked to Carlos Merlo, self-described as Mexico’s “king of fake news,” whose largely outsourced operations @DFRLab previously exposed.

Their hashtag campaigns underscore the mercenary nature of the business of fake amplification in Mexico, and suggest that political groups from across the spectrum have taken to using such dark arts to gain an edge in the polls.

Read the full analysis on Medium.
On June 28, presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, also known as AMLO, organized a festival to commemorate the closing of his electoral campaign, ahead of election day on July 1.

The festival was accompanied by a hashtag campaign under #AMLOFest, which quickly attracted pro-AMLO and anti-AMLO accounts, who used the hashtag to respectively promote and smear presidential candidate Lopez Obrador.

The hashtag started trending late on June 27 and quickly generated more than 234,000 mentions. According to a machine scan those mentions were generated by a total of 65,900 users. On average, each user generated 3.5 hashtag mentions, which is a high figure. In scans of organic traffic which @DFRLab conducted previously, a typical average rate of posting ranges from 1.1 to 2.2 posts per user. The traffic on #AMLOFest generated 30 percent more, suggesting artificial amplification.

Read the full analysis on Medium.
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There is more uncertainty about the future of global and regional trade systems than at any time since the current rules-based order was created in the aftermath of WW2. As trade wars loom, the world’s two largest trading powers, China and the United States, pursuing “America First” trade policies appear on different and discordant paths. China has gamed the system and is pursuing mercantilist policies in an effort to dominate the technology-driven economy now taking shape. The rules-based trade system brought unprecedented growth and prosperity over the past seven decades. If the world’s largest trading power, China, cannot accommodate itself to rules and standards sought by much of the world, this China Challenge renders inclusive regional and global trade architectures increasingly problematic.

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Ahead of Mexico’s presidential election on July 1, a network of Facebook pages and Twitter accounts has been promoting partisan political messages, most of them attacking front-runner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

The network uses Twitter bots which appear to have been hired from external providers, and Facebook likes from users in India, Brazil and Indonesia. These non-Mexican sources boost the messages by giving them deceptively high numbers of likes and retweets.

The network appears to be connected to Mexican entrepreneur Carlos Merlo, described in local and international media as a “fake news millionaire.” Merlo claims to control millions of automated social media bots, and dozens of “fake news” pages and websites.

Fake accounts and hyper-partisan attacks are troubling at any time, but especially in the immediate pre-election period. In this post, @DFRLab presents our initial findings and methodology. The network is likely far larger than the initial span covered in this survey; more research is needed to verify its full extent.

Read the full analysis on Medium.
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Environmental degradation has become a major issue in Iran. It is a source of economic hardship, ill health, social disruption and recent political protests. Climate change has been a factor in this deterioration but so has mismanagement of the country's once ample natural resources. Our latest issue brief, Environmental and Wildlife Degradation in Iran, authored by ecologist David Laylin, reveals the monumental challenges faced by the Islamic Republic as it contends with water shortages, disappearing lakes and wetlands, polluted air, sandstorms, desertification, biodiversity loss and shrinking forests. This comprehensive analysis also outlines practical steps that the government of Iran and international partners can take to begin to overcome these challenges.

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The Global Innovation Sweepstakes: A Quest to Win the Future examines how emerging technologies will remake the global order and explores strategies for how the United States can retain its innovative edge. Tech-based innovation—in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, green energy, and biotechnology—will reshape the future of human civilization. Those nations that can create and adapt to cutting-edge technologies will realize enormous economic and geostrategic benefits in the decades to come. It is with this realization that the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, in partnership with Qualcomm, embarked on a global tour of technology hubs to find out which ones are at the cutting edges of innovation and which are at risk of falling behind.

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In one of the most consequential presidential elections in recent history, Colombians elected Iván Duque as their next president by a healthy twelve-point margin on June 17. In line with most predictions and election polls, uribismo regained power for the first time since former President Álvaro Uribe left office in 2010.

With president-elect Duque set to take office on August 7 with healthy majorities in Congress, what can we expect from his presidency? How will he reactivate an economy that is just starting to recover from the deceleration experienced since the 2014 drop in oil prices? 

This Spotlight is authored by Leonardo Villar, director of Colombia's most prestigious think tank Fedesarrollo, and Juan Felipe Celia, assistant director at the Atlantic Council's Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. 

Click here to read the full Spotlight publication.
Mexican political party the New Alliance (Nueva Alianza, or PANAL) has been benefiting from significant online amplification by a cluster of activists and probable Twitter bots, in the countdown to the country’s July 1 election.

As part of our ongoing monitoring of Mexican political dynamics, @DFRLab analyzed a number of hashtags supporting PANAL. We found a mixture of bots and highly-active human accounts which, together, gave a major boost to the campaign’s hashtags — enough to significantly distort the traffic.

Read the full analysis on Medium.
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In a newly released report, Global Energy Center Senior Fellow Alan Riley highlights the risks that could stem from the construction of the contentious proposed Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which would bring gas from Russia to Germany. In the report, Dr. Riley emphasizes that the proposed pipeline would have negative implications for European energy security, including undermining transit security, reducing route diversity, creating a “Straits of Hormuz” risk for Europe, and undermining the single market.

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The Colombian elections have spurred significant interest in Venezuela, as evidenced by the social media activity of accounts based in the country or managed by Venezuelans.

#ElectionWatch researchers looked into this activity. There is more evidence of coordinated social media efforts between Venezuelan opposition supporters and Colombian right-wing groups, than between the Colombian left wing and Chavista supporters.

The most successful tweet from Venezuela to Colombia, however, was a false story, which once again highlights our concerns about the misinformation flows in these elections and their political use.

Read the full analysis on Medium.