In the final stretch before the 2018 Mexican elections, Alto analyzed the public digital debate to uncover key insights revealing how candidates’ digital strategies and emerging local digital media overtaking traditional media influence are the driving forces of Mexico’s political revolution.

This election demonstrates significant political and social shifts as, for the first time in 72 years, there are high chances the presidency of the Republic will be governed by a politician not from the PRI or PAN parties. According to polls Mexicans are likely to elect leftwinger, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, as their new president.

To understand the complexity of the current political revolution in Mexico, Alto conducted a systematic analysis of the public digital conversation from May 14th to June 2nd, 2018 in English and Spanish. Gathering 15,282,538 public comments by 1,120,558 authors from multiple data sources such as Twitter, Facebook, newspapers, blogs, forums and digital communities. A total of 1.185.540 pieces of content – from photos, videos, articles and memes – were shared across all data sources, reflecting the richness of the public digital debate and the unstoppable relevance of content in shaping discussions.

Alto’s data scientists wanted to confirm, as the polls suggested, that Mexicans would vote Manuel López Obrador, leader of National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) and also known as AMLO, as their next President. Alto wanted to understand the role of candidates, civil society, and foreign and local media in shaping the public digital debate. The key factors driving this profound political revolution are varied and complex. Alto’s analysis has confirmed that systematic research of the public digital opinion and electoral strategies of candidates represent valid units of analysis to objectively understand the roots of the political shift. Learnings are of the utmost interest to the wider LATAM region and echo the profound transformations in governance and strategic communications in which we live.

Digital conversations reflect Mexican social reality and are aligned with recent polls

Public digital debate is highly polarized into three key communities showing little overlap. AMLO’s community dominates, representing 53.8% of the digital public debate, in line with recent polls results such as the figures published in EL PAIS. Even after deducting the activity associated to likely non-human behavior, AMLO has the highest support in the digital sphere and the most viral content – a reflection of his offline popularity. Polls also indicate that the second most popular cadidate is Ricardo Anaya, as our analysis also suggests, followed by Jose Antonio Meade.

Influence of traditional media is vanishing under pressure of emerging local digital media

Alto’s analysis shows the evolving Mexican media ecosystem and how public opinion is being created. New, digitally native media are rapidly disrupting Mexico and creating a reconfiguration of the traditional agents that throughout decades had a monopoly in conforming public opinion – traditional political parties, public institutions and traditional media. When analyzing virality, the ability to create content with high levels of propagation within the public digital debate, 3 of the top 5 media didn’t exist 8 years ago. The domain of the 2nd most viral media within the digital public electoral debate, regeneración.mx, appears as registered in December 2009. The 3rd media, aristeguinoticias.com, created in 2011 and revoluciontrespuntocero.mx, the 4th most viral media, appears as registered as early as October 2016.

Alto’s analysts determined the most viral content favour AMLO. Narratives associated to AMLO receive increased organic digital support in audience interaction size with messages created by or about AMLO and the most viral content contains positive association to AMLO’s interests and agenda, while damaging those of his political adversaries.

A qualitative analysis of the top 50 most viral content shows how 38% of this content explicitly and positively favor AMLO, 22% are negatively about Meade (PRI candidate), and 14% also negativity position PAN candidate, Anaya. Another key insight shows within the top 50 most viral content there is no negative associations to AMLO and no positive associations to the interests of Anaya or Meade, reflecting the superiority of AMLO’s narratives in the electoral campaign.

AMLO’s digital campaign key messages have been successfully picked up by new local digital media. A detailed analysis of candidates’ communities shows how AMLO’s community has very high affinity to digital media: 57% of the contents shared are digital and only 33% come from digital versions of traditional media. On the contrary Anaya’s and Meade’s communities distribution patterns do not focus on digital media: 47% and 54% of the contents shared in each community are from traditional media. The table below reflects how diverse media mixes are in each community with few of the same domains commonly shared by opposing candidates.

What about the Russians? And the bots?

The analysis also identified that despite clear intent from different foreign media to influence the digital debate, they have not yet played a significant role in shaping discussions. Data analysis demonstrates that local Mexican media has been more influential and the impact of foreign media was thus far peripheral in the public debate: of the top 150 most shared media only 17 are foreign media. The top 5 most influential foreign media are:

  1. elpais.com (Global Influence Rank 14th)
  2. rt.com (Global Influence Rank 30th)
  3. cnn.com (Global Influence Rank 31st)
  4. nytimes.com (Global Influence Rank 46th)
  5. reuters.com (Global Influence Rank 49th)

Although Russia Today (RT), has not played a decisive role in the creation of narratives or significant disruption of the public debate on Mexican elections, upon analyzing RT’s behavior, Alto’s analysts observed there were repetitions of similar strategies and tactics successfully used in other electoral processes in Europe and USA.

Despite the inability to create new narratives, Alto uncovered growing relevance of Russia Today in Mexico: RT has ranked as the 2nd most influential foreign media (globally rank 30th most influential author), following Spanish media El PAÍS, ranked 14th globally. This insight confirms the increasing position of RT as an influential international media of reference, even in countries with weak historical, political or economic link to Russia. Lastly, RT has partially penetrated AMLO’s community, but failed to manage wider propagation across all communities.

A qualitative analysis of RT’s editorial strategy shows how RT has focused its efforts on eroding PAN’s leader Ricardo Anaya: 20% of the most distributed RT news damaged Anaya’s reputation. RT’s editorial strategy is very indirect with regards to AMLO with no explicit support within the most viral news. RT also focuses on a wider variety of local social themes: Mexican crimes related to Russia or good bi-lateral relations are two examples of RT’s editorial narratives.

RT.com and non-human behavior

Alto’s analysis has also confirmed the use of abnormally, high-activity authors focused on distribution of RT content, as well as a high affinity and support from authors located and/or strongly connected to Venezuela. The most active author around RT content reflects activity incompatible with human behaviour – suggesting partial or total automated authors: @gurrutiar has published an average of 154 messages per day, every day, over the last 8 years, mostly focused on Mexican politics. Other authors, within the most active group sharing RT content include @creotuweb_1, @nicanws and @federicoclemen8 who share the exact same content simulnaeously – Alto’s analysts noted @creotuweb_1 was also one of the active accounts during the RT campaign in the days following the illegal referendum in Catalonia (Spain).

RT.com and Venezuelan influence

To identify the level of support of authors geolocated in different regions, Alto’s data team has created a bi-modal network in which both users and domains and connected. This network combines nodes of both authors and top 150 most-shared domains to assess the contribution of authors in different regions in the distribution of these highly viral domains. Shown in red are how Venezuelan authors tend to aggregate and connect domains within the network: Telesur, HispanTV and RT, similar behavior to what we have observed in other disinformation campaigns.

Fake Russian authors interested in Mexico or maybe not…

Alto’s analysis has also uncovered a network of 3.079 authors with two key features in common: they appear to be geolocated in Russia, Ucrania or Belarus and/or use cyrilic characters. While we are not able to conclude what percent of these authors were normal users that changed their profiles as a reaction to earlier news, suggesting heavy Russian meddling: #ElectionWatch: Russian Bots In Mexico? What it is evident from the analysis is that at least 1,590 authors belong to a subnetwork showing abnormal patterns: some publish content in multiple languages such as Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, Spanish and English, some of them focus their attention only on very specific Mexican politicians such as @BogusBelgodere – Agustín Belgodere – or @nuvasi – Nuria Mayorga Delgado.

Revealing AMLO’s digital strategies

Detection of non-human behavior is a priority for all digital platforms and are continuously improving their strategies. However, a reduced number of undetected farms of authors can create important network effects. Alto’s analysis identified only 0.34% of authors in Twitter’s giant component showed abnormal levels of activity with over 500 messages during the period of analysis. However, these authors were heavily concentrated within Morena’s community and a subnetwork of them played a key role in supporting specific local news media sources pro-AMLO.

Only 0.5% of Morena’s community within Twitter’s majority component created 21.6% of messages within that community. Morena concentrated 75.03% (736 authors) of all high activity users (981 authors with > 1.000 Messages) and 78.3% (163 authors) of the 208 authors with an extremely high activity of > 2.000 messages during the period of analysis.

Top digital and local news media sources: Revolución 3.0, Sin Embargo and Regeneration

The above mentioned subnetwork of 163 authors presents distinctive features:

  1. Anonymous profiles: 87.7%
  2. Only publishing about Mexican politics: 82.8%
  3. Re-tweeted at least once more than 1 time per second: 47.8%

These 163 authors also contributed importantly to the virality of three sites: revoluciontrespuntocero (9.8% contribution) sinembargo (9.6% contribution) and regeneracion (9.5% contribution) in what appears to be a coordinated effort. These websites are also of recent creation – websites’ domains were registered by local domain service in Mexico between 2009 and 2016, and are examples of the rapid and profound transformation in the Mexican media landscape.

Key learnings

  1. This research confirms that the possibilities of dissemninating asymmetric information leads to incentives to create asymmetric information: disinformation possibilities are infinite in the digital world and the incentives in a political campaign are very strong.
  2. Understanding and assessing the impact of asymmetric disfusion (disinformation campaigns) is key to create resilience.
  3. Disinformation is not only about social networks, it involves the complete digital ecosystem and expands into the offline world.
  4. Not all networks are the same. Twitter is ahead in terms of transparency and actively enforcing strong polices against automation of which we already see positive results in our analysis.

Interested in our work? For questions or a presentation of the complete analysis, please contact us at info@alto-analytics.com. To learn more about Alto Data Analytics and our proprietary software, subscribe to our newsletter below.