December 4, 2020

The hoax against the Foreign Minister was disseminated in a coordinated manner by anonymous accounts in the Vox environment


A hoax against Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya has been viralized on social networks since Wednesday night. In a false audio that pretends to be a radio interview with the minister, a woman confuses Joe Biden, winner of the US elections, with Bin Laden, former leader of the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda, whom she congratulates up to three times for his electoral victory. According to a forensic analysis of the false audio to which elDiario.es has had access and whose results have been confirmed by several independent sources, its distribution responds to a coordinated operation from the extreme right and executed by anonymous accounts in the Vox environment.

Verification agencies Damn Bulo, Newtral Y Efe Verifies they denied the content on Thursday, labeling it as disinformation. But unlike other fakes, the viralization patterns of the hoax against the Foreign Minister do not correspond to a confusion of users about the veracity of the audio, but rather to a political action aimed at damaging the image of its target.

The broadcast of the audio begins to pick up speed on WhatsApp during the afternoon of Wednesday. The messages of this messaging network are encrypted, which does not allow the hoax to be traced to its exact origin or to know in which groups it was shared. No one except the company has access to those messages. However, his jump to Twitter, an open network in which comments are visible to all users, did leave a public footprint.

The first audio that is shared on Twitter with the hoax of the false interview with the minister is published at 9:12 p.m. on Wednesday. It is done by an anonymous account created this November belonging to the Vox community on this social network: all their interactions are retweets to positions such as Rocío Monasterio or influencers next to the extreme right, responses to other users who identify themselves as supporters of the party or their own publications with memes, propaganda or hoaxes against the Government or in favor of Vox.

The characteristics of this first jump from WhatsApp to Twitter already include several tests that point to the existence of a coordinated distribution strategy. It is not the MP3 format that was being disseminated through the messaging network, but a link to the Dropbox platform, a cloud storage service that facilitates its download by other users and its viralization. The audio had been uploaded to this platform just two minutes before, at 9:10 p.m., by a person who identifies himself as “Juan Piñero.”

The scarce two minutes that pass between the upload of the fake to Dropbox and its publication on Twitter suggest that “Juan Piñero” and the anonymous account are the same person or have direct contact between them. Facts like it is an anonymous profile that throws the stone, that it does so in response to another anonymous user with 2,600 followers in a conversation without any relation to the topic (which ensures that both she and her followers see it, unlike what would happen if he had published it as his own comment, which would only have been shown to his 90 followers) and that the hoax was found to be true from the beginning are evidence of a malicious distribution.

As a contrast is the performance of the first user who mentioned the existence of the hoax on Twitter, about 15 minutes before the action of the anonymous account, at 8:57 p.m. That user, with first and last name, does not distribute it as a certainty, but asks about its origin and if it is misinformation, since it is suspicious content. This behavior is common when misinformation accidentally goes viral.

After the distribution of the first audio, its impact capacity was increased by adding an image to it and converting it into videos. In less than 12 hours and through digital guerrilla tactics like these, the hoax was viralized and caused a great impact among public opinion.

Answers to spread the hoax to other conversations

According to the forensic analysis of the audio and has been able to contrast elDiario.es, it was disseminated through responses to other conversations on Twitter by accounts with very few followers. The plan was to reach a number of users inaccessible to intoxicating profiles and exponentially increase their reach.

In addition to the anonymous account that originally spread it, this was the strategy followed by many others. One of the most striking cases is that of an account without a name, without a profile photo or a cover image, created in September 2020 and with only four followers. One of them is a Vox charge and two others are identified in their biographies as supporters of the party.

To increase the impact of the hoax, this account injected him into a conversation with great significance among his affinity audience. He did so through a reply to a comment in which a influencer (with 38,000 followers) close to the extreme right distributed the thesis of the pucherazo in the American elections that Donald Trump is trying to uphold, without evidence.

The objective of this strategy based on responses and not with own comments is to shorten the path that disinformation must travel until it reaches public opinion. Without waiting for it to reach users through its contact networks, it launches itself against the communities of other profiles with thousands of followers that the initial network does not have.

To reinforce the impact of the action, the accounts that participated in the operation used the strong idea “this is the level” or “what level” in almost all their comments.

Furthermore, the play on words between “Biden” and “Bin Laden” did not originate with the hoax directed against the Foreign Minister, but rather he was already in the speeches of accounts that supported Trump since earlier this week. The broadcasters took advantage of this association of names to use it in their strategy of viralization of the hoax.

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