The message that circulated on social media earlier this year — most Mexicans would have to re-register within days if they wanted to vote in the presidential election — set off a low-level panic on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. The thing is, it wasn’t true. The source remains unclear. But whether the message was a dirty trickster’s attempt to undermine the system or just an ill-informed public service effort, the anger and uncertainty it generated represented an early skirmish in the battle over disinformation in this year’s fiercely contested election season. “What candidates do on social media will be decisive,” said Carlos Merlo, managing partner of Victory Lab, a marketing firm dedicated to spreading viral claims, saying they must respond quicker than ever to combat disinformation.
There is a lot at stake in the July 1 vote: over 3,400 elected positions at the local, state and federal levels, more than in any other election in Mexican history. The biggest prize is the presidency, with five candidates on the ballot competing to succeed President Enrique Peña Nieto for a six-year term.
Fake news has been flowing fast, and the campaigns have traded accusations that they have hired paid, online agitators called trolls and used automated programs known as bots to flood social media platforms with messages intended to deceive and manipulate voters.
And as investigators in the United States continue to investigate the extent of Russian efforts to sway the 2016 presidential election, the threat of Russian interference has loomed over the Mexican race as well.