Likes vs. machines: the triumph of influencers in the regional elections in Bogota

In Circuito, our information and analysis initiative on social networks and democracy, last week we addressed the triumph of Alejandro Eder in the Cali mayoralty, which relied on the power of the social networks of his wife, actress and former beauty queen Taliana Vargas. In this post, we take a look at the case of the Council of Bogota, which from 2024 will hold its sessions with four influencers on board. 

Fuchi': the most voted

On the afternoon of Sunday, October 19, when the pre-count bulletins began to be released, not many knew who was Julián Forero, the candidate of Rodrigo Lara's movement's list who appeared as the most voted. At the end of the day, Forero, better known as 'Fuchi', obtained close to 70,000 votes, more than those obtained by the elected mayors of cities such as Popayán, Armenia and Neiva, and almost twice as many as those obtained by Sara Castellanos, the most voted candidate in the last elections.

Forero is the leader of Street Brothers, a collective of motorcyclists that, eight years after its creation, has accumulated 280,000 followers on Facebook and 116,000 on Instagram. These channels were an indispensable showcase for 'Fuchi', who does not have greater visibility in individual accounts. His campaign was also boosted by direct communication through Whatsapp groups among motorcyclists, cab drivers and digital platform workers, who seem to have voted motivated by a feeling of indignation.

In the realm of direct action, Forero and his team carried out a last-minute campaign in which they filled potholes in the streets, a task they have been doing for years but recently intensified and promoted on social networks as part of their campaign effort. With a pothole filling machine financed with 'drivers' resources', they paved streets without official authorization and with improvised signage

With a speech to improve mobility in Bogotá, Forero presented himself as the representative of drivers, including users of Uber, Rappi and cab drivers. Among his banners was also the denunciation of persecution against motorcyclists, corruption among traffic agents, fuel costs and the danger of the poor state of the city's road network. 

Angelo Schiavenato: the caste influencer

The success of 'Fuchi' was so overwhelming that he added the necessary votes for the list of his movement to obtain an additional seat, which in this case corresponded to the influencer Angelo Schiavenato, with 11,000 votes in his favor. 

Schiavenato captured national attention in 2022 when, victim of a robbery at a traffic light in Bogotá, he reacted by running over the assailants with his vehicle. This experience marked his discourse on citizen security, a recurring theme in the only three videos he used in his campaign. Without presenting concrete proposals, Schiavenato focused on his personal achievements as a lawyer and his successful prosecution of the thieves who assaulted him, criticized the lack of training of those running for public office and promised a Bogotá without thieves

Schiavenato is a multifaceted character: at 29 years old he has a resume that includes two master's degrees, a specialization, he is a university professor, manager of a multinational software company, president of a law firm, in addition to being a medical student and owner of a bar and a restaurant in Bogota. His popularity in social networks is remarkable as he has 69,000 followers on YouTube, 35,000 on Instagram and more than 80,000 on TikTok, an audience that perceives him as a prepared and successful figure. His content in these spaces is not political: it reflects his life as a lawyer and student, as well as his gastronomic experiences and success tips. 

According to Schiavenato, his campaign has been one of the shortest, most austere and effective. However, he did not skimp on the creation of content for social networks, as he hired the influencer Nico Jurado, a tiktokter from Bogota with 170,000 followers, who was his chief debater and shared several videos about Schiavenato's candidacy on his TikTok account. 

Triana and Briceño: from criticism in networks to political control in the Council

In both the Green Alliance and Democratic Center lists, the most voted candidates were two people who have built their platforms in networks around political issues.

On the one hand is Daniel Briceño, a lawyer and prominent critic of Gustavo Petro's government. He has made a name for himself on platforms such as X, where he has exposed cases of corruption associated with the government, including a series of contracts signed by the former minister of sports, María Isabel Urrutia, and those awarded to the influencer 'Lalis', linked to the Historic Pact. In addition, he has been a fervent opponent of Claudia López's administration in the capital.

In his message of thanks for the electoral support, Briceño affirmed that his political offer is purely of opinion and he has committed to promote austerity and to fight against the consumption of psychoactive substances in the city's parks. Despite starting the race as the last on his party's list, his popularity allowed him not only to win a seat, but also to help the Democratic Center secure two additional seats. Briceño attributes his success to a strategy of closeness with the electorate, highlighting that he took more than 1,500 coffees with citizens who registered through social networks to meet him and listen to his proposals.

On the other hand, Julián Triana, mayor of Fontibón for Alianza Verde and content creator with nearly 290,000 followers on TikTok, has emerged as an alternative voice in Colombian politics. His campaign strategy moved away from traditional methods. Instead of billboards, he used people-made art and digital outreach to reach his constituents, as he mentioned in an interview with Semana magazine. Triana has also focused his efforts on building an online community not only for entertainment but for political dialogue, using accessible language to discuss issues of national importance. In addition, he was recognized in the Cifras y Conceptos panel as one of the digital opinion leaders in Colombia.

Triana was the first person to be cited by the Attorney General's Office because of a content on TikTok, as a contractor of the Historical Memory Center denounced him for slander in a video in which Triana accused him of being a racist. His campaign raised funds through innovative proposals, such as selling tickets to his party 'Sin perreo no hay futuro' in Teatrón. As a councilman, his proposals focus on improving access to reading and the autonomy of libraries, highlighting his achievement in the opening of the Fontibón Public Library. He leads the Macondo Libre foundation that promotes reading through itinerant libraries. In addition, she proposes programs for youth that include job training and benefits for companies that employ young people, as well as mental health initiatives and education in positive masculinities.

The fall of consolidated companies

It would be hasty to conclude that the digital strategy was the main reason for the victory of these politicians. However, in contrast to the triumph of the influencers in the campaign for the Bogotá Council, other important voices in the city that aspired to repeat their terms in this corporation, lost their seats. This is the case of Diego Cancino, from Alianza Verde, and Manuel Sarmiento, the only councilman of the movement led by Jorge Enrique Robledo. 

Sarmiento, who had served for two terms, went from 22,000 votes in 2019 to only 5,800 now. For his part, Cancino also faced an alarming decline in votes, going from 35,000 in the previous term to approximately 7,000.

The digital strategy of these political voices seems to have been insufficient or ineffective. Diego Cancino, for example, has not updated his TikTok account, where he has less than one thousand followers, nor has he had a notable presence in other social networks. In addition, his political marketing strategy was questioned for the use of automated calls with the voice of Antanas Mockus to promote his candidacy. However, Cancino seems to attribute his defeat not to the lack of a proper digital strategy, but to an attempt to silence him due to his accusations of corruption against Claudia López and Carlos Amaya, members of his own party.

In short, the political scenario of the regional elections in Colombia serves as a sample to observe the evolutionary dynamics in which influencers, armed with communication strategies adapted to the digital environment and a commitment to represent the concerns of their followers, are redrawing the political map and exposing how the mobilization of influence in social networks can transcend institutional spaces.