#ElectionWatch: Down Ballot Bots in Mexico

A network of bots promotes two PRI candidates running to represent the state of Puebla

`(Source: @DFRLab)

In a little less than a month, Mexico will elect not only a new President, but also 128 members of the Senate and 500 members of the Chamber of Deputies. Ahead of the elections, researchers have observed the use of bots, both commercial and political, deployed for the purpose of promoting candidates, campaign materials, and opposition research on social networks. This is not the first election in Mexico shrouded in social media manipulation and likely not the last.

The use of bots in Mexico is not limited to one political party and seems a more general practice. The majority of research on social media manipulation in Mexico ahead of elections focused on the Presidential race, but much less attention was paid to automatization in senatorial campaigns.

One such example is the ongoing bot campaign of the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (PRI) Senate candidate Juan Carlos Lastiri Quiros, who is running to represent the state of Puebla. PRI is known for relying on automated social media accounts ahead of elections, so much so, in fact that pro-PRI bots are commonly referred to as Peñabots, named after the head of PRI and current Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

The bot campaign identified by the @DFRLab revealed that not only did PRI fail to cease its automation in support of its presidential campaigning, they extend the use of bots to support Senate candidates.

#LastiriSi

Between May 30 and May 31, Juan Carlos Lastiri Quiros’ supporters produced 31,000 mentions of #LastiriSi (Lastiri Yes) on Twitter, reaching 4,900,000 Twitter users.

(Source: Sysomos)

31,000 mentions were generated by 2,268 users, meaning that each user involved in the campaign mentioned the hashtag on average 15 times in a little over 24 hours.

(Source: Sysomos)

Most mentions were retweets of tweets using the hashtag.

(Source: Sysomos)

The vast majority of accounts, 86.7 percent, had an authority score of zero to three (out of ten), which is based on account activity and account’s influence. On average, accounts with an authority score of zero to three make up for about 21.4 percent of all Twitter users. The disproportionate amount of accounts with a low authority score involved in the hashtag campaign indicates a high presence of bots in the dissemination of the hashtag.

(Source: Sysomos)

A look at the accounts that used the hashtag the most revealed that 30 Twitter accounts generated 24,718 mentions of the hashtag in a little over 24 hours, strongly indicating the use of automation. The indicator being the fact that a human doesn’t tweet at a rate of more than once every other minute for 24 hours straight, let alone 30 humans in sy n.

Author ID

(Source: Sysomos)

A thorough look at individual tweets using the hashtag confirmed it. The most popular tweet using the hashtag #LastiriSi came from Juan Lastiri himself.

(Source: @JuanCLastiri / Twitter)

A machine scan revealed that the tweet was initially retweeted by 79 political bots. All of these bots were created on May 8, 14, 15, or 16 and their location was set as “Puebla, Mexico”, which is the state that Juan Carlos Lastiri Quiros is running to represent. Furthermore, neither of the bots tweeted about anything other than PRI’s campaigns. This indicates the bots are political, not commercial, and were created with the goal of supporting PRI in the state of Puebla.

(Source: Sysomos)
(Source: Sysomos)

Detailed investigation of the bot accounts revealed that Lastiri was not the only PRI candidate these bots were promoting to represent the state of Puebla. The same bots were also promoting PRI’s candidate for governor of the same region — Enrique Doger.

(Source: @mjaveryp / Twitter)

All of the bots retweeted tweets by PRI candidate for Senate @JuanCLastiri and PRI’s governor @EnriqueDogerG. Both candidates are running to represent the state of Puebla.

The most retweeted usernames by six botnet accounts (Source: Twitonomy.com)

The number of retweets both candidates received on their posts promoted by bots suggests that Puebla state bots form a small, but very active botnet. The small number of bots helps avoid spam detection, while their hyperactive behavior helps amplify hashtags and campaign materials to large numbers of real users, as the reach of #LastiriSi hashtag indicates.

The Puebla botnet reveals that despite criticisms, PRI continues to use bots and automation to promote its candidates at all levels of governance.


Donara Barojan is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at @DFRLab.

#ElectionWatch in Latin America is a collaboration between @DFRLab and the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council.

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