Argentina’s #TrollCenter promoted a hashtag campaign to break a teachers strike

Just a few hours after Argentine trade unions announced a national teachers strike for March 6 and 7, a campaign was launched on social media using hashtag #VoluntarioDocenteNoAlParo (“volunteer teacher — no to the strike”), in opposition to the 48 hour work stoppage.

A report by Política Argentina attributed the campaign to what Argentine netizens call the #TrollCenter or the “PRO Call Center” — twitter trolls that tweet in support of the PRO, short for Propuesta Republicana, the political party of Argentine president Mauricio Macri.

Image: Digamos

A February 24 report published by Digamos documented the campaign and found that over 3000 accounts generated 22,500 tweets which drove the hashtag to break the strike. The campaign produced 48.2 million impressions between 9PM and 3AM overnight from February 23–24.

Image: digamos.org

Of the 10 accounts that tweeted the most during the “PRO call center” blitz, the first account sent 235 tweets — in just 3 hours — and the last sent 157.

The campaign’s “Top Trolls” manage some impressive daily metrics. According to socialbearing.com @LaBelgrana sends on average 152 tweets per day; @irene231313 tweets 176 tweets per day — amounts way above the norm for typical human users.

The troll campaign successfully placed the #VoluntarioDocenteNoAlParo hashtag in the trends bar. It trended #1 in Argentina and also trended worldwide.

Image: @karcla71

#VoluntarioDocenteNoAlParo is trending worldwide!!!

Many tweets came from volunteers explaining their various skills and backgrounds and offering to teach during the strike.

“Technology professional and university postgraduate in business. I volunteer to teach classes the days of the strike.”

I’m an electronic engineer, I volunteer to give classes in Applied Science at any level of education.

Other twitter users denounced the hashtag as a fabricated campaign by the “Call Center.”

I open twitter and see #VoluntarioDocenteNoAlParo is a trending topic @marquitospena’s call center is fully staffed… how shameless, mobsters, son of a bitch!!!

#HappyThursday The trending topic #VoluntarioDocenteNoAlParo was created by Cambiemos trolls to demonize the teachers.

They are so outrageous.

Due to the attention the hashtag drew on social media, various reports were published in Argentine media discussing the campaign.

Digamos operates the Macri Troll Center — a website that tracks troll activity and streams live stats showing which trolls are most active in real time. The site also shows historical data for various accounts that have been designated as trolls and users can submit suspected trolls to the website for review.

@Superalitita is at the top of the leaderboard today clocking an impressive 189 tweets in the last hour, followed closely by @GracielaGallega at 183 tweets and @martinez56bis trailing in 3rd place at 138 tweets per hour. These stats were recorded around 10:45AM (EST), by midnight they may double or triple these numbers. Twitter will only measure up to 300 tweets per hour so when one of these accounts appears in red, that indicates they have tweeted and/or retweeted over 300 tweets during that hour.

“Top 10 Macri Trolls — Tweets in the last hour” // Screenshot April 24, 2017–10:45AM est via digamos.org

The PRO denies it operates trolls on twitter but the national budget of Argentina allocates millions of dollars per year to digital strategies in social media. According to an August 2016 article in Noticias, the Argentine government has a social media team of 78 people between 2 agencies working on digital communications with a yearly budget of $163,289,111 pesos (about $10.5 million USD).

Infographic: Noticias

Noticias also points out that the Argentine government uses big data to engage in targeted advertising. The current administration has combined various pre-existing state administration databases such as Anses, PAMI, AFIP to create one “data megabase” of Argentine citizens. Critics insist that the usage of this data violates the Law of Protection of Personal Data.

There is no way to connect the trolls on twitter to the Macri administration’s social media team and it’s important to keep in mind that there will always be real supporters mixed in with any government messaging online. However, once citizens realize their government is using these techniques to target them with official messaging, people tend to interpret any genuine government support that may exist as fake.

Social media researcher, multimedia artist