Information operations in Bolivia

Several researchers from around the world have published analysis in Spanish language regarding social media manipulation surrounding topics and trends supporting the recent military-civilian coup in Bolivia but their research has not been translated to English or widely reported in the US media. Here are some highlights.

graph of new Bolivian accounts created October 18 to November 20. 2019

Bolivian social media stats

Facebook is the dominant social media platform in Bolivia. According to Statistica, Facebook accounted for 81.95 % of social media visits in 2019 as compared to Twitter which comes in below Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest at just 2.82 %.

Source: Statistica

Timeline of new account creation activity

General elections were held in Bolivia on 20 October 2019 and were followed by 19 days of protest which culminated in the Bolivian military and police asking President Evo Morales to resign on November 10.

graph of new Bolivian accounts created October 18 to November 20. 2019
breakdown of community structure (modularity) via gephi — sorted into 34 days of new accounts
closeup of some of the accounts created on November 13
sample of new Bolivian Twitter accounts & dates they were created — Source: Luciano Galup

The Bolivian expat/US Army vet aka “Cyber Rambo”

Julian found one very interesting account that was programmatically retweeting hashtags supporting the opposition. He found that one single account had contributed more than 13,000 retweets to 14 hashtags supporting the removal of President Morales.

“The account that has supported the campaigns in favor of the coup, with more than 13,000 tweets is that of @suarezluis, a programmer of the USA army who has his own application to automate RTs. The 1st part of the video is data, the 2nd speculation.” — via Twitter
Sources: Twitter & Facebook
Source: Facebook
Source: Luis Suarez’s website

Debunks

There were several rumors and Fake News™ that circulated during November so I’ll just address 2 that I think got a lot of attention and were not properly debunked at the time.

Debunk #1: No the CIA did not make a hashtag trend in VA

The below tweet with a screenshot containing the trend #BoliviaNoHayGolpe (translation: there is no coup in Bolivia) claimed it was trending in “VA” and this went semi-viral so some people speculated that it was trending in the state of Virginia because that’s where CIA headquarters are located.

Source: Twitter

Debunk #2: The fake photo of Evo Morales, Chapo Guzman and Pablo Escobar

Henrique Salas Römer, Venezuelan politician, former Governor of Carabobo state and president of the centre-right party Project Venezuela, has a verified Twitter account with 190K followers. On November 6, he tweeted a black and white image that appeared to show Evo Morales sitting at a table in between Chapo Guzman and Pablo Escobar. Even though this was a pretty obvious photoshop, Römer’s tweet is still up and currently has 9,804 Retweets and 9,627 Likes.

Translation: “Chapo Guzmán, Evo Morales and Pablo Escobar… I think the photo can explain a lot of things !!!”
Source: maldita.es
Source: maldita.es
Original image — Source: maldita.es

Social media researcher, multimedia artist