Written by Claudia Rodriguez-Hidalgo Translated by Daniela Jaramillo-Dent
In October 2019, Bolivia will elect a president, vice-president, congress representatives and senators. The media, academia and government agencies foresee the greatest amount of electoral information to circulate through Smartphones, taking into account the number of mobile users in the country, according to the State of Internet Situation in Bolivia report, March 2019.
According to the report, in the last 5 years, the level of connectivity in the country doubled, a figure also included in the Digital Report of 2019 about Bolivia, where it is estimated that more than 94% of the population connects to the Internet via Smartphones.
Within this framework, one of the major concerns regarding the upcoming electoral process arises: how information circulates through these devices, and the effects of the manipulated or manufactured information on Bolivian voting decisions.
Videos, memes, audios, photographs, gifs, etc., circulate easily through messaging applications such as Whatsapp and Messenger, and their origin is almost impossible to determine, as warned by two organizations recently created in Bolivia for the verification of information: Verifica Bolivia and Chequea Bolivia, both led by journalists and academics with the mission of denying false information circulating on the Internet. The creation of these organizations responds to a need to alleviate the effects of false information and avoid its effects on election results, as evidenced in Brazil, where Jail Bolsonaro’s campaign used as one of its main fake news resources through Whatsapp groups supporting the candidate. The same has happened before in Brexit in the UK, and the US elections, where the final results are attributed to the fake news effect.
The report dated March 2018 published by the Masachussets Institute of Technology (MIT), states that fake news is 70% more likely to be disseminated and generate more impact than verified news, which they attribute to two key questions: the emotional appeal of its contents, and the surprise and impact it generates. In this sense, the creation of this type of content, far from being a mere phenomenon of the information society, has become, in certain contexts, a profitable business that captures the attention of users and exchanges it for clicks and advertising income, making the ways of identifying them complex, but not impossible.
Even so, in an electoral context, and generally speaking, when faced with the use of information, the first duty of user responsibility is to doubt, and then verify the information before sharing it.