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.
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.
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.
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.
A week before the election, people attending a campaign rally for presidential candidate Iván Duque were attacked by a swarm bees. A number of high-profile Uribe sympathizers blamed supporters of Colombia Humana’s Gustavo Petro for the attack. The Cesar department police chief quickly debunked the accusations. 

The Atlantic Council's #ElectionWatch team analyzed the case and the flows of information online. Like the case with the #FraudeElectoral hashtag, partisan users were willing to push deceptive narratives, without regard for the availability of verified versions of them. What is even more worrying, is that the work of fact-checkers and journalists is not being shared widely enough for debunking lies on social media.

Read the rest on Medium.
In a little less than a month, Mexico will elect not only a new President, but also 128 members of the Senate and 500 members of the Chamber of Deputies. Ahead of the elections, researchers have observed the use of bots, both commercial and political, deployed for the purpose of promoting candidates, campaign materials, and opposition research on social networks. This is not the first election in Mexico shrouded in social media manipulation and likely not the last.

The use of bots in Mexico is not limited to one political party and seems a more general practice. The majority of research on social media manipulation in Mexico ahead of elections focused on the Presidential race, but much less attention was paid to automatization in senatorial campaigns.

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After the first round of voting in Colombia’s presidential election on May 27, citizens took to social media to share claims of ballot tampering in favor of leading candidate Iván Duque.

The conservative Duque won the first round with 39 percent of the vote, comfortably ahead of progressive rival Gustavo Petro, who garnered 25 percent. The two rivals are to face one another in a runoff on June 17.

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In the buildup to Mexico’s presidential election on July 1, reports have been circulating of “Russian bots” amplifying political messaging in Mexico, raising fears of Russian state-backed interference, such as was seen in the United States in 2016.

@DFRLab has investigated these reports. We have been unable to verify claims of large-scale bot activity emanating from Russia. We have found one apparently Russian botnet boosting Mexican political messages, but this botnet appears to be commercially-run, boosting posts from a wide range of countries and on a wide range of subjects.

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