Ecuador Disinformation Profile

From ADTAC Disinformation Inventory

Ecuador Media environment

The 2021 world press freedom index ranked Ecuador 96 out of 180[1] and the 2020 Freedom on the Net index ranked Ecuador only in front of Cuba and Venezuela in the Americas.[2] Although Lenin Moreno’s recent presidency between 2017 and 2021 recorded significant improvements of media freedoms, the government continues to block and take down news sites and social media pages, often citing copyright infringement. In 2019, mass protests were met with internet disruptions when servers including those of Facebook and WhatsApp became unreachable for Ecuador’s population.[3] 54% of Ecuadorians used the internet in 2016.[4]

State-sponsored trolling and disinformation

During Rafael Correa's presidency (2007-2017) the state utilized trolling, online harassment and bot-generated disinformation to further their agenda. Noted instances are as follows:

01/2014 Leaking fake documents and state-sponsored trolling

Martha Roldós, the daughter of Jaime Roldós, a former Ecuadorian president, is as an investigative journalist in Quito. In 2014, her email account was hacked leading to the leaking of documents that wrongfully claimed that she was “funded by the CIA and that [her] goals were to destabilize governments that opposed US policies.”[5] A state-sponsored trolling campaign followed, where Roldós received death and rape threats – created and amplified by fake accounts on various social media platforms. Later investigations showed that the hacking was part of a larger government-funded “hacking campaign that targeted opposition activists, politicians, and journalists throughout South America.”[6]

Summer 2019 – Hashtag manipulation and retweet spam

Twitter removed over 1000 fake accounts linked to Moreno’s political party, employing tactics of hashtag manipulation and retweeting spam. The accounts intended to amplify narratives engaged in spreading content about President Moreno’s administration, focusing on issues concerning Ecuadorian laws on freedom of speech, government censorship, and technology.[7]

10/2020 #CONAIEterroristas

Following increased austerity measures, the country experienced political turmoil. A multitude of troll accounts and bots accredited the riots to the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, or CONAIE. The #CONAIEterroristas hashtag, as a result, was mentioned in 16,379 tweets and retweets that reached almost 5.1 million Twitter users.[8] Additionally, a widely distributed and shared YouTube video showed Moreno appearing to say that it did not matter to him if people died while unemployed.[9]

Coronavirus Disinformation

04/03/2020 A failed Coronavirus response

At the beginning of the pandemic, President Moreno was criticized for not handling the pandemic well and pictures of mass graves emerged online. According to Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo, the images were disseminated by thousands of social media accounts and it “resulted from a coordinated effort by a ‘political group.’ ”[10] The pictures, however, were of a burial in Mexico in 2018. Overall, over 13 disinformation campaigns were detected in connection to the pandemic.[11]

Disinformation during Elections

04/2021 Disinformation during recent election

The recent presidential election in 2021 was substantially influenced by bots and disinformation online. During the runoff election between center-right Guillermo Lasso and progressive Andrés Arauz, an analysis by Twitteraudit, a virtual tool that distinguishes real from fraudulent accounts on Twitter, estimates that Arauz had more than 2,200 fake followers (3%) and Lasso about 1,600 (31%).[12] Furthermore, false accounts accused Arauz of embezzlement, fraudulent university degrees, of wanting to replicate the model of the Venezuelan government and of accepting drug money for his campaign, which all turned out to be false. Lasso, on the other hand, was accused of having been vaccinated with the first doses against covid-19 that arrived for medical personnel.[13][14]

01/2017 – 04/2017 Ecuador’s general election

DeBot, a bot classifier tool, collected 32,672 bots from January to April 2017 that discredited or promoted Ecuadorian presidency candidates. However, almost “46% of all bots collected supported the official candidate, Lenin Moreno, and other candidates, such as Guillermo Lasso, received almost a tweet against for every tweet in favor.”[15] Similarly, Twitter recorded a flood of fake accounts that were created shortly before the election. Interestingly, Rafael Correa – who was not even a candidate – amassed a number of recently created followers during the campaign five times those from Lenin Moreno’s and Jorge Glas’ twitter accounts.[16]

Recent developments

05/2021 – 06/2021 Disinformation during Lasso’s presidency

Since Lasso’s inauguration a variety of Twitter users have disseminated disinformation. The most recent instances are listed below.

Since May 25th a capture of an alleged tweet issued by the President has been circulating on WhatsApp in which he appointed Lourdes Tibán as governor of the province of Cotopaxi. Five days later, one tweet claimed that President Guillermo Lasso has appointed Andrés Páez as the new director of the Ecuadorian Social Security Institute (IESS), intending to diminish Correa’s legacy within the IESS. Another claimed that President Lasso signed a document that would have abolished alimony. The post was accompanied by a picture of Lasso signing a document.[17]

  15. D. Rofrío et al., "Presidential Elections in Ecuador: Bot Presence in Twitter," 2019 Sixth International Conference on eDemocracy & eGovernment (ICEDEG), 2019, pp. 218-223, doi: 10.1109/ICEDEG.2019.8734426.
  16. D. Rofrío et al., "Presidential Elections in Ecuador: Bot Presence in Twitter," 2019 Sixth International Conference on eDemocracy & eGovernment (ICEDEG), 2019, pp. 218-223, doi: 10.1109/ICEDEG.2019.8734426.