04 Jul

Obrador support group has 43.6% of bots in debate on Mexican elections

Out of a total of 3,328 automated profiles, 43.6% were identified in Obrador’s support group and 26.23% in a group of his political opponents; part of the automated accounts retweets messages from Latino politicians

Updated 5 de July, 2018 at 6:53 pm

Last Sunday, July 1st, the eve of the confrontation between Brazil and Mexico for the World Cup, Mexicans elected Andrés Manuel López Obrador as their new president, with 53% of the votes. At a large advantage compared to the other candidates, López Obrador was able to engage substantial Twitter support during his campaign; and among the five names that ran for the presidential race, he was the one with the most interactions coming from bots in his support group.

Between June 29 and July 2, 1,052,920 Twitter posts were collected, in Spanish, with references to presidential candidates, parties that composed the coalitions, hashtags and terms particular to the Mexican electoral debate and other political figures associated with this context. The database used in the analysis corresponds to a sample of 20% of the entire debate, with randomized collection of posts from a Twitter-specific algorithm, and produced 785,691 retweets – coming from 380,076 profiles -, organized in the map of interactions. Afterwards, the use of our own FGV DAPP methodology to detect suspicious automation activities identified 3,328 profiles (a little under 1% of the total) participating in the debate which show signs of being bots.

The (orange) group, which contains Obrador’s profile on Twitter (@lopezobrador_) and aggregates the support to the president-elect, accounted for the largest group in the graph, with 22.41% of the profiles. In addition to congratulatory messages and declarations of electoral support for Obrador, there is a strong repercussion in the group of publications made by leaders of other Latin American countries, such as Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro and Bolivia’s Evo Morales. In total, 4.24% of the interactions in the group showed suspicious behavior, among which an account that retweeted the congratulatory message made by French politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon.. Other potential bots have also retweeted publications by Obrador and other relevant Mexican political figures, as well as several retweets of posts by researcher John M. Ackerman (@JohnMAckerman) of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). And regarding the total number of suspect profiles in the map of interactions, this group represented 43.6% of accounts suspected of being bots.

Map of interactions about the Twitter debate on the Mexican elections
785,691 retweets (20% sample) – 06/29 to 07/02

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV DAPP

The second largest group of the graph, in pink, accounted for 17.89% of the profiles, among which the most influential was former president Felipe Calderón (@FelipeCalderon), who wished luck and success to Obrador. The other posts also congratulated the president-elect and propagated the victory, but with the additional focus of the messages sent by two opponents, Ricardo Anaya and José Meade, who acknowledged their defeat. Many posts with a high volume of shares recalled that, in 2006, Obrador refused to admit defeat in the presidential elections, and that Anaya and Meade’s posture is very positive for the Mexican democracy.

In the pink group, 1.28% of the interactions were identified as suspicious (corresponding to 26.23% of all profiles suspected to be bots in the graph).. There are several retweets of posts made by Meade’s account (@JoseAMeadeK) and Calderón’s, and also shares of the publication by Cuban journalist Yusnaby Pérez (@Yusnaby), who propagated a statement by Obrador with a positive tone regarding Fidel Castro.
The third largest group of the graph, the dark green group (11.19%) presented virtually no actions by suspicious profiles (0.09% of the interactions) and is the only one among the main engagement groups in the graph to have a very diverse debate regarding the political positions of the profiles and the subjects discussed. The highlights were, for example, criticism of Meade’s party (PRI), with messages by many citizens who blame the party for the defeat in the elections; messages that, without expressing support for Obrador, emphasize the importance of unity among Mexicans for the upcoming government; jokes about the result; and comparisons between the election and the match against Brazil.

Bots (black dots) in the Twitter debate on the Mexican elections

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV DAPP

In turn, the red group (10.33% of the profiles in the graph), was found to contain 1.67% suspicious interactions. This group propagates political topics and topics related to Obrador’s electoral platforms, and encourages the act of voting in the elections, demonstrating pride of democracy. The most retweeted post of the group was by former President Vicente Fox with an ironic collage of Fox himself, along with the other Mexican heads of state who are alive, alluding to the promise made by Obrador to end their pensions. We have also found that publications with evidence of bot activity have shared Fox’s post and had the same thematic outline observed in legitimate engagements of the group.

In blue, with 6.6% of the graph and 2.10% of interactions coming from bots, we see international posts — from other foreign countries in Spanish language — about the Mexican elections. The four main tweets in this group are, respectively, by Evo Morales, Nicolás Maduro, former president of Argentina Cristina Kirchner, and former head of state of Ecuador Rafael Correa. The rest of the group is organized around the impact of the support of these and other Latin American leaderships, the emphasis on the importance of unity between the peoples of these countries, and Obrador’s victory as a reference for the leftist movements in the region. Among the bot interactions, there are shares of tweets from all the aforementioned politicians, as well as of the publications of Venezuelan TV channel Telesur (@TeleSURtv).

The last of the main groups in the graph, in light green, accounted for 5.5% of the profiles and also presented very low identification of suspicious interactions (0.74% of the total in the group). It is composed mostly of retweets of messages from other Mexican candidates and public figures, such as celebrities and politicians, among them current president Enrique Peña Nieto and the defeated candidates, Margarita Zavala and Jaime Rodríguez. The most shared tweet in this group, however, was the one made by Obrador shortly after the victory. In this group, we also saw a significant volume of posts with reports of fraud and electoral coercion, complaints about alleged violations of the integrity of the electoral process, and news reports and updates on the vote count.