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September 17, 2018

To the Citizens of Macedonia:

From the day of your nation's independence, the United States of America has been your steadfast friend. The American people have admired your peaceful emergence from the ashes of Yugoslavia. We have respected your courage in upholding democratic values and free institutions. And we have supported your aspirations to achieve prosperity and security in a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace.

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On Sunday, August 26, Colombians went to the polls again, this time to vote in a “popular consultation” on a series of seven initiatives intended to counter corruption. A significant share of the campaigning involved spreading misinformation — or countering it.

The consultation asked Colombians to vote on seven initiatives intended to crack down on Colombia’s endemic corruption. If approved, they would have strengthened punishment for convicted corrupt officials, improved the transparency of public offices and public contracts, imposed a maximum of three four-year periods for holding seats in public corporations — Congress, department assemblies (something like state legislatures in the United States), and city councils — and lowered the salary of Congress members and other high-ranking public officials.

The consultation was backed by both the president and the opposition, requiring a high turnout and a high vote to be approved, but failed to achieve the former. Disinformation aimed at suppressing the vote likely had a serious impact on the outcome.

Read the full analysis on Medium.
Macedonia will hold a naming referendum on September 30, which will decide by ballot an initiative to rename the country the Republic of North Macedonia. The issue does raise the question of what is in a name, but it could also resolve a long dispute between Macedonia and Greece, which has kept Macedonia from ascending into the European Union and NATO.

Leading up to the approaching referendum date, an online campaign called #Бојкотира (translates to #boycott) is steadily growing on Twitter and Facebook. The aim of this far-right campaign is boycotting the referendum.

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A conspiracy theory that began as a throwaway joke in 2001 was amplified on YouTube and ended up being seriously quoted in a debate between Brazil’s presidential candidates on August 9.

YouTube played an important role in the spread of the ­­United Socialist Republics of Latin America (URSAL) conspiracy theory in Brazil. YouTube algorithms consistently expose viewers who watch URSAL-related content to recommendations for other conspiracy-prone topics, making the theory an entryway into further online disinformation and potential radicalization.

The acronym “URSAL” was coined as a throwaway comment in an article 17 years ago. It was subsequently taken up by far-right supporters who took it seriously and later resurfaced on YouTube, finally being denounced as a genuine Communist conspiracy by a candidate during the first presidential debate in Brazil.

The incident shows the audience impact on YouTube, and the danger its algorithms pose in steering viewers toward content promoting fictitious conspiracy theories.

Read the full analysis on Medium.
The first presidential debate ahead of Brazil’s October election took place on Thursday, August 10. An analysis of online engagement around the televised event concluded that automated profiles comprised only around 3 percent of total interactions and that statements classified as “fake” by fact-checking agency Lupa (a partner of FGV DAPP’s Digital Democracy Room) had little impact on broader conversations. Yet for the first time since the pre-campaign period began, one piece of unverifiable news appeared among the top ten trending articles on social media. The piece, published by the website República de Curitiba, claimed Twitter “removed” mentions of right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro from the platform during the debate.

Read the full analysis on Medium.

Ahead of Brazil’s presidential elections, a group of apparently young Brazilians is running a network of Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts to trade engagement — likes, followers, and pages — for cash.

The network was involved in boosting partisan, election-related content in Mexico. With Brazil’s own election due on October 7, this network has the potential to reproduce its Mexican operations much closer to home.

Read the full analysis on Medium.

Brazil’s race for the next president is narrowing by the day. Of the fourteen candidates announced as of the beginning of August, five viable front-runners have emerged.

In this Spotlight, we ask: With Brazil’s presidential campaign set to officially kick off, what could an October win for one of the top contenders mean for political and economic reforms, foreign direct investment (FDI), and security?
During recent elections in Colombia, entities on all ends of the political spectrum spread misinformation and editorialized to suit varied agendas. The trend was on full display in the sharing patterns of four very partisan media outlets:,, and The first three were right-wing biased, while the last was left-wing, specifically anti-Uribista: it had an agenda against the ideas and actions of former president Álvaro Uribe Vélez. 

The success of these partisan media outlets in the recent elections is a testament to the increasing polarization among Colombian audiences. Moreover, it also shows how these new online-only media startups are emerging and took a good chunk of the traditional media’s audience and advertising cake.

Read the full analysis on Medium.
The Colombian elections are over. On June 17, conservative Ivan Duque was elected president with 10,373,080 votes, which was 54 percent of the ballots. Duque was victorious over left-wing Gustavo Petro, who garnered 8,034,189 votes. The process was rife with concerns over the impact disinformation and misinformation on voter behavior and the overall election.

Read the full analysis on Medium.

Mexico is poised for a new era of prosperity if deep structural issues are adequately addressed.

In this Spotlight, we ask: What are four of the top issues President-elect López Obrador might prioritize in his first 100 days in office?