Following Santos’ launch of an online campaign focused on social networking, in a bid to win back voters from Antanas Mockus‘ Internet-friendly “green wave,” rumors are circulating that the former defense minister’s campaign pays people to post pro-Santos comments on virtual forums.
An enigmatic strategy
La Silla Vacia calls Santos’ campaign “totally uncommunicative” regarding its Internet strategy, and says that after a week of attempting to speak with someone from the campaign, it was told that virtual stategies would only be discussed after the election.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s campaign guru Ravi Singh is reported to be in Bogota working on Santos’ campaign. “The official version, maybe to avoid more work visa complications, which Singh doesn’t seem to have, is that [Singh] doesn’t work for the campaign and is only here as a vendor to advise on the purchase of some computer programs that his company sells,” La Silla Vacia notes.
The website says that it is “difficult to know exactly what the virtual strategy consists of,” and while Santos has many genuine online supporters and followers, “many of his supporters also exhibit strange online behavior that makes you think that they have false profiles, created for propaganda purposes.”
According to a La Silla Vacia source, current Santos strategist German Chica offered his services to various presidential candidates, before he was snapped up by the Partido de la U. Allegedly one of his campaign proposals was to contract young people to leave messages on a wide range of forums, in order to raise the candidate’s rank on online search engines such as Google.
La Silla Vacia provides evidence of such a technique on its own website, namely comments on articles “that are not the same as the typical comments made by our users, because of their content and because they don’t engage in conversation with other commentators.”
For example, on a Silla Vacia article published May 17, five forum participants made nine pro-Santos comments between 2:32 and 4:27 PM. The participants profiles were all created April 19 between 6:28 and 6:47 PM. All of the participant profiles used the same IP address, meaning that they all used the same computers, or at least the same Internet connection. “This clearly indicates that just one person is using multiple profiles to promote the candidate,” La Silla Vacia comments.
The same pattern is repeated between 9:54 and 10:40 PM, from a different IP address. Such a method is also seen in other La Silla Vacia articles, as well as other Colombian online news sites, such as Semana, El Tiempo and El Espectador.
Santos supporters: the genuine vs. the fake
Clearly, not all pro-Santos forum participants are part of this strategy. Genuine Santos supporters are generally differentiated from phony ones by the style of their comments, which tend to be longer, engage with the topic of the article, and respond to other comments.
On the other hand, comments by fake supporters tend to be very similar to each other. These comments do not refer to the specific theme of the article and “almost sound like [campaign] slogans,” La Silla Vacia says.
Here are some examples from La Silla Vacia website:
“We can not lose all of the good that we have achieved up until this point, with what the president [Alvaro Uribe] has done, by handing the mandate to the wrong person, that’s why the president is going to be Juan Manuel Santos,” writes “johanstiven.”
“Colombians can not choose badly again, that’s why we must vote for Juan Manuel Santos, who at the moment is the best of the candidates,” writes “leonardogarzon.”
“For an even better Colombia and so that us Colombians have a future filled with hope, this May 30 I will vote for Juan Manuel Santos, who is the best option for this country,” writes “linamorales.”
La Silla Vacia also exposes irregularities in some of the profiles of Santos’ fans on social networking site Facebook. A large number of profiles have the Partido de la U symbol as their profile picture, have between two and eighteen friends with the same profile picture and are only fans of Santos. Generally Facebook users have tens or hundreds of friends, and are “fans” of multiple people, places and things.
A similar phenomenon has also been reported as occurring on Twitter, according to La Silla Vacia.
Santos’ campaign tactics have changed since the candidate revamped his strategy at the beginning of May, with controversial Venezuelan spin-doctor J.J. Rendon at the helm.
Campaigning for the Colombian presidency will close Sunday evening. From midnight Sunday, candidates are prohibited by law from staging public appearances until the elections on May 30.