What candidate has appeared the most on your Facebook or Twitter news feed? A man by the name of Andrés Sepúlveda has spent the past 8 years of this life swaying elections across Latin America in favor of conservative candidates. He created 30,000 fake Twitter accounts, thousands of Facebook accounts of gay men supporting a conservative Catholic candidate, and tapped the opposition’s phones and computers to distort and then send misleading messages to voters in swing states. This man has used ‘herding’ and an ‘information cascade’ to effectively sway elections in Colombia, Nicaragua, Honduras, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Panama, and Mexico.
In an interview Sepúlveda explains how he used fake Twitter accounts to “shape discussion” around certain topics that would be ingested by real users of Twitter who spread the message. By using this strategy of herding, he was able to change people’s political views on the candidates, the support for this candidate would grow as they began to see their friends and coworkers retweet falsified tweets and propaganda. Sepúlveda claims that he was able to “manipulate the public debate as easily as moving pieces on a chessboard”. Sepúlveda proved that social media is where the majority of people will get their news from and that some people will believe everything they read on it almost blindly. The article goes on to make a great point that people believe the internet and the people they follow on Twitter because they see personal accounts of their friends and family and they trust these people over news sources that could be biased. However the problem with this is that these friends and family members are spreading false information around. Moreover, because Twitter monitors what is trending, writers and news sites will dedicate their work to cover these topical and popular issues. So by using the fake Twitter accounts Sepúlveda could shape what the media began to report on. The concept of herding and information cascade, is demonstrated by the fact that once a small population begins believing/supporting a candidate it is likely that more people will follow because they will see the articles their friends and family repost in support of the candidate. The scary part is that Sepúlveda is confident that the U.S. election has been tampered with— “do you think the U.S. election is being tampered with?..’I’m 100 percent sure it is’”. Sepúlveda refers to the heavy coverage of candidate Donald Trump as the online searches for him are astronomically higher than any other candidate.
If you answered Donald Trump to my opening question I wouldn’t be surprised. If I have learned anything from this article it’s that the over coverage of Donald Trump is not solely based on people’s dislike for him, but yet clickbait articles and journalists who have found out that the public will read anything published mentioning Trump. Essentially, this gives Trump more exposure and advertising revenue (as mentioned by the article).
This article scared me and after discussing information networks in class, along with the concept of herding I can understand how Twitter and false journalism is an effective tool at changing the public’s opinion on an issue. The internet is not always a reliable source, in fact even your friends and family can sometimes be manipulated by the social media they consume. Herding is decentralized and effective because it takes only several thousand mislead individuals to influence a nation, enough to sway a small proportion of people towards a certain candidate.