Evolution, the latest weapon of electoral disinformation in Colombia

Poster of the second round of the Colombian presidential elections in Bogotá, on June 18, 2022

Only those who best adapt to their environment manage to reproduce: this simple Darwinian theory, also used on social media, explains the latest twist in Colombia’s disinformation during the 2022 presidential runoff, which pits businessman Rodolfo Hernández and former president guerrilla Gustavo Petro.

“Disinformation has become sophisticated. (…) And that makes it much more difficult to verify if [o conteúdo] has problems,” Ana María Saavedra, director of Colombiacheck, told AFP, citing “near-perfect” fake tweets attributed to candidates and relevant political figures in the days leading up to Sunday’s vote.

Juan Esteban Lewin, editorial director of the portal La Silla Vacía and head of its lie detector, agreed. Speaking to AFP, he explained that this responds to “a natural evolution of disinformation: first fake news is very crude and easily disproved”, but then it becomes more complex because its creators learn to avoid fact checking.

An example of this was the screenshot of a tweet, which quickly went viral, in which Petro allegedly accused his rival of using his daughter’s disappearance as a political campaign strategy.

– Millimeter editions and limbo –

“Another of the sophisticated fake news is Petro and his pact with Satan, we see how they cut and edited these videos very well,” Saavedra added of a sequence that was edited to take a speech by the candidate in which he criticized religious people out of context.

“Or also [na gravação em que Petro diz] ‘I am not a Chávez’ and edited it [para parecer que ele diz] ‘I am a Chavez’. We are seeing a lot of these millimeter edits in these elections,” he specified.

In the eyes of the editors of Colombiacheck and La Silla Vacía, signatories of the International Data Verification Network (IFCN) along with AFP, electoral disinformation found another camouflage mechanism in humor and limbo derived from whether or not to understand its joke.

– Axis change and hazards –

The second round of Sunday’s elections, in which 39 million Colombians can vote, also generated a shift in disinformation interests, following the surprising passing of Hernández.

As verified by the AFP digital investigation team, the axis of disinformation jumped from Petro in the first round to Hernández in this vote.

AFP Fact-Checking verified false statements about alleged shortcomings, campaign promises and candidate statements. In addition, various dangers afflict verifiers in the campaign.

One of them was highlighted on June 10 by the Colombian NGO Foundation for Freedom of the Press (FLIP), which denounced that users cloned Colombiacheck’s graphic models on Twitter to misinform and impersonate its journalists.

Although one of the accounts has been suspended and some tweets have been removed, “these attacks get in the way of work” and “generate mistrust in the public,” the agency warned.

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