Today's digital environment, characterized by the massive dissemination of content, instantaneous interaction between platforms and a greater dispersion of audiences, has facilitated the orchestration of coordinated actions at the global level. These operations, which aim to redirect or disperse online attention through the use of deterrent techniques, raise concerns about the authenticity of public discourse and the integrity of democratic processes in Latin America.
In response to this concern, Linterna Verde took the initiative to compile case studies on coordinated actions in the region, based on digital research conducted by the media and other civil society organizations. The result is the report Findings on Coordinated Actions in Latin America', a useful tool for the identification of coordinated actions in the region.a useful tool for identifying recurring patterns in the region and advancing research on transparency in the digital environment.
The analysis of these campaigns allowed not only to classify the actors and dynamics used in the coordinated actions, but also the similar objectives they share, such as capturing conversations on issues of public interest, distracting criticism of government officials and attacking those who express opinions organically on current affairs.
What did we find?
One of the aspects that stand out from the research is the correlation between governments and political parties and the use of coordinated actions on social networks. The phenomenon is especially notable in authoritarian regimes in Latin America, which organize synchronized campaigns to deflect criticism and shape the online narrative through pro-government trolls. In this regard, a study by the digital observatory Probox, conducted in February 2023, revealed that in Venezuela, more than 90% of the publications on the X platform with pro-government hashtags come from automated or inauthentic accounts aligned with the regime of Nicolás Maduro.
Another example is from the Centro Latinoamericano de Investigación Periodística (CLIP), which has made significant advances in documenting coordinated operations in Colombia that are executed by private industry. In July 2023 they produced an article on Luis Duque, a political strategist whose company, Estrategia & Comunicaciones (E&C), has entered into fifteen contracts with different local mayors and governors. The agreements have had the objective of designing electoral campaigns in social networks using dynamics of monitoring, profiling and collection of citizens' personal data.
The findings of these research articles and others presented in the report allow us to point out that, on the one hand, coordinated actions in Latin America tend to emerge in situations of high polarization: media crises, electoral periods, social outbursts and, in general, moments of high political tension; on the other hand, social network platforms have become the main space to carry out these operations due to their global reach in a fast and efficient manner.
What's next in the research on coordinated actions in the region?
Academic, journalistic and civil society research is focused on analyzing the dynamics of coordinated actions: what is their strategy, how do they work or who is behind them. However, during our exploration we observed a lack of information related to the impact that these dynamics have on public debate.
On the other hand, while most of the platforms - Meta, Twitter (X), TikTok and YouTube - have developed rules and sanctions for coordinated actions or inauthentic activity, only Meta and TikTok periodically publish transparency reports in which they report the number of accounts and followers in the coordination networks.
However, these reports do not include the methodology used to detect inauthentic campaigns, making it difficult to externally verify their level of accuracy. In addition, there is a lack of clarity as to the criteria used to select which cases are included in these reports and which others are failing to be reported.
However, it is essential that the platforms continue with their commitment to identify these online dynamics. Bearing in mind that the evaluation of the real impact of these operations in the region is difficult to quantify due to their wide scope, it is imperative to propose, from digital research, innovative and flexible strategies and methodologies to continue counteracting this phenomenon.
This report not only sheds light on the complexities and challenges present in the battle against media misinformation, but also accentuates the usefulness of compilation tools that promote a more informed and resilient civil society.