The role of social networks in electoral contests

The 2018 federal elections reported an increase in the use of digital platforms and social networks as an important part of the candidates’ campaign strategies: Facebook groups calling for boycotts against companies and entrepreneurs who were involved in false news cases ; Bots and trolls on Twitter defending their respective candidates and even the fabrication of misinformation around an alleged case of money laundering against one of the candidates supported by videos broadcast on YouTube and that, in the end, involved the then the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) to exonerate the accused six months after the contest.

In 2016, the Oxford dictionary conceptualized post-truth as the context in which objectivity is lost as a result of the emotions that surround certain situations or situations.

Several electoral contests later, the concept of the Oxford Dictionary seems questionable. And it is that this context of loss of objectivity is now moving towards a new form where, converted into a mechanism of manipulation and propagation, it facilitates the spread of disinformation in very sophisticated ways and not all of them exclusive to digital environments. After all, fake news has been around since ancient Rome and Greece.

Today instead we witness the boom of fake news, bots, trolls, suckpuppets and even deep-fakes as the main tools for the propagation of the post-truth context or as I define it: for the feeding of that mechanism that diminishes societies by confusing, agitating and polarizing them.

So the question is forced being so close to June 5 when the governorships of six states in the country are decided: What role are socio-digital networks playing in electoral contests?

Although it is true that it has not been possible to verify whether the networks have sufficient power to define disputes, what is evident is that the money invested in them for these purposes is growing more and more:

On November 5, 2020, a report from Los Angeles Timess pointed out that the campaigns of Donald Trump and Joe Biden had spent more than 200 million dollars only on Facebook, using the role of moderators of false news with a high political impact. Donald Trump spent $110 million and Joe Biden spent $107 million on that occasion. In Google (owner of Youtube), Biden invested 81 million dollars, while Trump spent 77 million dollars.

In Mexico, the National Electoral Institute (INE) signed an agreement with Facebook (now Meta.Inc) during the 2018 electoral contest to “promote citizen participation in the 2018 elections.” The agreement included holding workshops to train INE officials on how Facebook works and the best practices for political communication on the platform.

With everything and the agreement, and despite the efforts of the INE, the cases of disinformation were presented in the contest and, at times, the socio-technological interactions of the users exceeded the little order that the formal media could establish with verified information.

The next state elections are important because from them it will be possible to preconfigure scenarios of what will happen in 2024. Electoral strategies today are woven into the complexity and multidimensionality of digital scenarios where microphenomena arise that make up more than a context, a weapon that the same thing manages to attract followers to the conspiracy theories around Covid19 than to recreate the image and false voice of a president asking his people for the surrender of his country in the face of a war, as happened with the false video of Vadimir Selenski propagated just days before of the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine.

It is the post-truth seen today -in my humble opinion compared to the concept of the Oxford Dictionary-, a mechanism and a high-risk weapon where its pieces are intertwined to confuse and deceive societies, with risks that go beyond the simple polarization of opinion .

*Rosa E. Arroyo has a doctorate in Political and Social Sciences with a focus on Digital Communication from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and is a specialist consultant in information management on the Internet..

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