2012's Biggest Social Media Blunders in LatAm Politics

Beware of bots, fake followers and polliticians who use Twitter too much.

ByABC News
December 25, 2012, 5:26 PM

Dec. 26, 2012— -- We've covered many stories this year that show how those in Latin America can use social media for a good cause. For example, it was inspiring to see how students in Mexico used Twitter to organize protests against media monopolies.

Yet, despite their generally democratic nature, social media sites can also be used to trick people into believing something that is not true. Also, in some cases, politicos just flat out forget they're public figures while on them. In Latin America both have happened more than a handful of times this year. Here are some of the most memorable.


Two major scandals broke out in Latin America this year, in which hundreds of fake Twitter accounts, bombarded social media users with messages in favor of certain politicians.

The first case occurred in Argentina and it was linked to President Cristina Kirchner. According to investigative journalist Jorge Lanata, Kirchner's aides created at least 400 Twitter accounts that were disguised as the accounts of regular citizens. But these accounts, run by a computer program, simultaneously posted hundreds of messages in favor of Kirchner's decisions, and also launched aggressive attacks against journalists who disapproved of her government.

Lanata uncovered this network of Twitter bots, after he found that several Twitter accounts simultaneously published messages discrediting his weekly news program. According to Lanata, these accounts used profile pictures of actors and academics from as far away as Italy, but under different names. They had very few followers, but dozens of tweets per day and only posted messages related to Cristina Kirchner and Argentine politics.

The second attack by Twitter bots took place in Mexico, just two months before that country's presidential election. As ABC/Univision pointed out in May, at least 350 accounts of dubious credentials posted identical messages, hundreds of times per day in favor of Enrique Peña Nieto the presidential candidate for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, and now the new President of Mexico. Many of these accounts fell silent once the scheme was revealed.

Fake Followers?

Several techies this year have tried to investigate whether politicians' Twitter followers are real people or accounts created by programmers for the sole purpose of following politicians and making them look like they're very well liked on social media sites.

In Ecuador, a programmer that goes by the name of Ivan Stalyn ran a program on Latin American political leaders' Twitter followers. His findings suggest that 73 percent of Hugo Chavez's two million followers could be bots. According to Ivan Stalyn, 58 percent of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa's followers could be fake as well.

Jamming Messages

This scheme involves using bots to jam messages that may favor a political rival. It was implemented in June of 2012, when hundreds of bots that favored Mexican presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, flooded Twitter with messages that mentioned hashtags related to Peña Nieto's main rival, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. By posting thousands of Lopez Obrador messages every hour, these accounts were attempting to fool Twitter into thinking that information related to Lopez Obrador was spam, thereby preventing Lopez Obrador information from reaching Twitter's coveted trending topics list.