Colombia – bots can shift public opinion in Colombian election

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Location: Bogota – Colombia

Language: Spanish

Duration: 00:05:03

Source: A24 subscribers

Restrictions: A24 clients

Dateline: 29/03/2022

Storyline:

European Union Election Observers have said that automated accounts, known as social bots, were responsible for 20% of the online interactions with candidates in Colombia ahead of the upcoming presidential elections on May 29th. Experts said social bots are legitimate marketing tools although they can actually manipulate the public opinion and contribute more to the process of information diffusion. Maria Paula Martinez, FLIP Assistant Director, sheds light on how contents by bots behave on social media platforms and interact with genuine account. She said bots are programmed to actively and automatically flood news streams to divert attention. She said bots are planned precisely to introduce a speech and we are concerned that the media could consider them as opinion against or in favor. Maria del Pilar Saenz, Karisma Foundation Projects Coordinator, said bots are so noticeable that it is very difficult to really see what the real conversation is about. She said bots continue to misrepresent public sentiments and perceptions about topics.

Shots list:

– Soundbite Maria Paula Martinez, FLIP Assistant Director:

“I don’t know if there really are actual places (of troll farms), although some have written stories here about venues, such as campaign headquarters from where this takes place… What is clear is that a phenomenon is noticeable in which many accounts lineup very quickly, almost instantaneously: they begin to talk about the same topic or divert attention, or criticize the same messages, and this grows exponentially. In a few minutes you see a hundred, then two hundred accounts with very similar messages, which seem like a template, with the same hashtag pointing to the same accounts and you begin to see that it’s like soldiers lining up: ta, ta, ta, ta, ta…”

– Soundbite Maria Paula Martinez, FLIP Assistant Director:

“We know and it is evident, deliberate, collective, programmed actions… that they are not random, they are not of the moment, they are not of the citizen who suddenly trigger a conversation… Instead they are planned precisely to introduce that speech… and we are concerned that the media could consider them as opinion against or in favor. Of course, we do not think that the way to mitigate this is to regulate or block the accounts. That is a way that often ends up being regressive to the very beginning of freedom of expression and freedom of press. On social media lying is not banned.”

– Soundbite Maria del Pilar Saenz, Karisma Foundation Projects Coordinator

“We have problems defining whether this can be legal or not. Because the internet as a media outlet and social networks, in particular, are quite disruptive.”

– Soundbite Maria del Pilar Saenz, Karisma Foundation Projects Coordinator

“They are so noticeable that it is very difficult to really see what the real conversation is about. So they have effects that can be harmful. They are just marketing strategies, what happens is that in other types of products it is sometimes easier to discern propaganda: if you get an advertisement of a product it is marked as an ad, it is much easier to identify, but with politicians it is not so easy. So there are some misrepresentations of reality from the presence of this type of bots.”

“Regarding bots, there have already been decisions made by social media where they have canceled 20% or so of the followers that certain politicians have because it is found that they are accounts that are apparently false accounts or that they are bot accounts. So the platform itself has taken decisions to remove some of these accounts and stop them from generating this artificial noise on their networks.”

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