Mexican election: dirty tricks abound ahead of vote

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Mexican election

In just under five weeks, leading candidates Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Ricardo Anaya will go head to head in the Mexican general election. Penned as the biggest election in Mexican history, July 1st is the day Mexicans will vote in both the general and local elections across 30 states.

In this race for a five-year-and-ten-month presidency, the running has been far from smooth. With both candidates facing accusations of misogyny and racism, it seemed things could only get better in the final four weeks before the election. A report published by the group ‘Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity’ (MCCI) begs to differ.

The group, famous for revealing corruption in Mexico’s university system, released a report on Tuesday entitled ‘Cash Under the Table’. The authors described the increasing circulation of dirty money during election campaigns. In response to rising competition in multicandidate elections, politicians were resorting to buying votes and increasing spending. Mexico imposes strict spending limits on election campaigns, and these limits were being grossly exceeded by leading candidates. ‘Cash Under the Table’ stated that for every peso which is spent on campaigning, another fifteen go unreported.

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The extra money funding these campaigns is alleged to come from extremely dubious sources. MCCI stated that illegal money came from corrupt local governments, businessmen buying future contracts, and drug cartels. The authors described the inexplicable rise in cash during the election period as compelling evidence of illicit financing.

However, this is only one of the many tactics being used to manipulate election results unfairly. Recent research has revealed that political parties are going even further to attract votes. Members of Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project are currently tracking automated accounts and bots being used in the election. These bots boost the popularity of social media posts, making marginal opinions seem prevalent and promoting positive content. A combination of bots and humans operate in ‘troll farms’, which were previously used in the 2012 election. These farms encourage workers to turn around any kind of social media negativity in favour of a particular candidate.

Mexican media outlets, universities and non-profit organisations are currently running the initiative ‘Verificado 2018’, which aims to crack down on fake news spread by bots. So far this year, the Verificado 2018 has identified several dangerous pieces of fake news, including an article which claimed that José Antonio Meade was leading the presidential race with 42% of the public vote, according to a poll organised by The New York Times. Meade is, in fact, currently polling in third place.

Bot hunters are reportedly being sent death threats by those working at troll farms. As the election nears, it is likely that more accusations of illicit financing and fake-news spreading will emerge. It is hoped that growing public awareness of these dirty tricks will deter voters from being swayed by what they read online.

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