A network made up of “hundreds” of fake Twitter accounts has manipulated the conversation in networks about the Ecuador elections, which will be held this Sunday. A study carried out by 13 researchers of Ecuadorians and Spaniards has detected the irruption of the fraudulent network, which has artificially amplified the speech of the conservative Guillermo Lasso while he criticized the correista candidate, Andrés Arauz, through “a strategy of dissemination of hatred and lies.”
The fake profile network uses stolen images from other websites to simulate the appearance of real users. Among the cases documented by the authors of the report is, for example, that of Dániel Szabó, whose photo was stolen from the page of the Hungarian chapter of Transparency International to be used in the fake account “JorgeFe82011137“. Bill “Chavitadel8“stole her profile picture from a user of the Russian social network VK, “Sergate69Rivera“of a actors website, “manuchocun“to a Venezuelan user of a dating app Y “Mg_noelia“found yours in a turkish website. The process was repeated hundreds of times.
Most of the network accounts detected by the researchers have few followers and are low-level. Many have been created in recent weeks, while others are “recycled from other countries or had a commercial use such as broadcasting reality TV content”, details the study, published by the Technical University of Manabí and the Rey Juan Carlos University and hosted on the portal of the Latin American Council of Social Sciences.
The polls prior to the elections indicate Arauz as the favorite, but indicate that a second round against Lasso will be necessary.
Investigators have detected the action of the fraudulent network that has broken into the process has had an important weight in promoting the conversations launched by the campaign of the conservative candidate, such as # LassoPresidente2021, #PropuestosDeLasso or #CapacidadDeCambiar. Of the 35,000 tweets that made these conversations trending, “more than half are posted by accounts with fewer than 100 followers” and “more than 10% by accounts with fewer than five followers.”
However, the accounts have had an even more relevant impact on the dissemination of disinformation around Azauz, which they accuse of being in favor of the de-dollarization of Ecuador, as well as the viralization of the “lelo” insult. This action has been reproduced around conversations such as # LeloEstásPerdido, #LeloArauz, #LeloEsVenezuela or simply #Lelo. Some of the false profiles that make up the network have made dozens of comments using these hashtags, the researchers emphasize, making Ecuador the country where that word has been repeated the most during the weeks that the electoral campaign has lasted.
The report, which defends Rafael Correa’s inheritance in Ecuador and accuses the opposition and part of the media of delivering “a soft blow” to overthrow him, suggests a link between the false accounts and Lasso’s campaign. For the researchers, the key is the action of “Vamos Guillermo”, which has a presence on both Twitter and Facebook.
“Come on Guillermo”
“Come on Guillermo” has done an investment of more than $ 11,000 to promote videos and propaganda in favor of Lasso to hundreds of thousands of Facebook users in recent weeks. However, “Daniel Navarrete” appears as the payer of these ads, with no apparent relationship with the conservative candidate’s campaign. “We are citizens who support Guillermo Lasso’s campaign”, is defined on your website.
elDiario.es has tried to contact Navarrete and the managers of “Vamos Guillermo” in various ways, but they have not responded to the requirements. This platform also has an account on Twitter. It was created in July 2020 and its comments are regularly shared by the accounts of the fraudulent network both to promote Lasso and to criticize Arauz, says the study that has detected the irruption of this toxic swarm.
Employing a common tactic when investigating social media profiles, the researchers downloaded and analyzed who were the first followers and followed by “Vamos Guillermo.” They found that despite identifying himself as a citizens’ initiative, his first follower was Pedro Paul Betancourt, advisor to Guillermo Lasso.
“Betancourt affirms that his advice to Lasso does not include defamation strategies or false accounts, just the strategy followed by Lasso and his environment. In fact, it should be noted that clear processes of lack of ethics and economic asymmetry are established bordering the norms electoral authorities and Facebook itself, which does not allow political paid advertising without indicating the origin of the funds, “says the report.
This medium has asked Twitter about the blocking of some of the false accounts detected in the report, but has not received a response.
The strategies that the researchers refer to in the report on the manipulation of the Ecuadorian elections are reminiscent of the astroturfing –English word game with the brand name of an artificial turf manufacturer used to name the tactic of trying to pass off as an emerging social movement from below what is actually a paid propaganda campaign from above– used in other manipulations such as the facelift of the coup d’état removed Evo Morales from Bolivia or the fake Facebook pages created by PP advisers that They pretended to be critical militants of other parties to benefit Pablo Casado’s party in the 2019 elections.