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False information has proliferated around the Ecuadorian presidential election

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One was denounced for false diplomas and bribes from narcos, the other would have defrauded to be vaccinated against the Covid-19. The fake news did not spare the candidates in the second round of Sunday’s presidential election in Ecuador.

Economist Andrés Arauz, protégé of ex-president Rafael Correa, and former conservative banker Guillermo Lasso have mutually blamed each other for encouraging this trend, in view of the vote that will decide between them to succeed the unpopular Lenin Moreno .

Against a background of polarization between left and right, corréist and anti-corréiste, manipulated information and false accounts have proliferated, fueling exchanges. The sympathizers of a candidate seek to “discredit the adversary, converting him into an enemy” and try to make him appear “as unfit for the exercise of power”, explains political scientist Gabriel Hidalgo, of the University of the Americas (UDLA ).

Thousands of fake profiles

Ecuador is a particularly fertile land for disinformation. In this country of 17.4 million inhabitants, 40% of those over 12 use at least one social network from a smartphone, 8.1% more than in previous elections in 2017, according to the National Institute of Statistics and censuses (Inec).

“These elections had a great digital presence,” confirms Veronica Altamirano, professor at the Particular Technical University of Loja (UTPL). As a result of polarization, “a great deal of false information has come out, marring programs like the lives of candidates,” she adds.

Posts on Facebook and Twitter have indeed sparked clashes between presidential candidates. Arauz, 36, who won the first round with 32.72% of the vote, accused Lasso of “inventing and viralizing” lies. His 65-year-old rival, who won 19.74% of the vote in February, complained of being the target of foul-smelling campaigns.

To the attacks was added the phenomenon of false profiles or bots, which follow “accounts to insult, deny, generate controversy”, specifies Veronica Altamirano. The latter are identifiable by the photos of their profiles – which are those of the candidates – few subscribers or a doubtfully recent activation.

Some even launch their own campaign and are joined by “profiles, which are not necessarily false, who support X or Y and who will promote these messages”, explains Roberto Moreano, professor of digital journalism at UDLA.

An analysis of Twitteraudit, a virtual tool that distinguishes real Twitter accounts from fake ones, shows that Arauz has more than 2,200 fictitious followers (3%) and Lasso around 1,600 (31%).

Alteration of the debate

As during a ping-pong match, “the networks are suitable for people to insult each other and not debate by arguing” their words, said Tania Orbe, of the University of San Francisco, during a presentation. seminar organized by Ecuador checks (Ecuador checks).

The AFP verification team, a member of this coalition of around thirty media and organizations, revised the content accusing Arauz of being involved in embezzlement, of holding false university degrees, of wanting to copy the Venezuelan model and to have received money from drug trafficking to finance his campaign. They were all wrong.

“An action is launched with, for example, the attribution of offenses not committed, of statements […] unspoken or taken out of context ”which arouse“ insults, slander, defamation, ”adds political scientist Gabriel Hidalgo.

For his part, Lasso was accused of having been vaccinated against Covid-19 by taking advantage of doses reserved for medical staff, and of participating in campaign acts accompanied by young women in bikinis. They were montages.

Little impact

The battle on social networks had a special episode in February with the denunciations of fraud by the indigenous leader Yaku Pérez, who narrowly missed being elected in the second round.

So-called evidence of irregularities was in fact the result of a misunderstanding, AFP said. Thousands of social media users attacked young people carrying reproductions of ballots, accusing them of being fraudsters while carrying out exit surveys.

Analysts, such as Gabriel Hidalgo, however, stress that the fight on the networks ultimately has little impact in the ballot box because it opposes groups that are not representative of the electorate and come from “sectors with privileged access to traditional information. or digital ”.

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