Mexico: Bot Campaign of Death Threats Against Blogger Rossana Reguillo

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In February 2015 Rossana Reguillo, Mexican academic and blogger, internationally recognized for her work with social movements, received death threats on twitter. The threats continued for more than 2 months and extended beyond twitter to other social media platforms, personal emails and threats in person. Data mining tools show that the majority of accounts supporting the attacks against her were bots and trolls.

Trolls and bots in Mexican networks have become disturbingly effective at negating freedom of expression. In the context of extreme violence, institutional deterioration and democratic weakness in Mexico, strengthening freedom of expression and guarantees for information, discussion and public participation in matters of public interest is vital.

The magnitude and scale of the attacks against people, news sites and critics has now become urgent. The expression “Don’t Feed The Troll”  is no longer a sufficient answer when it comes to politics in Mexico. Blocking trolls and bots online is not enough. The minimization of violent threats online and the misconception that virtual life is different than life offline are dangerous assumptions taken in the context of the current atmosphere in Mexico where attacks against dissenting voices are on the rise.

Mexican Twitter Bots: Cyber-Attacks on Free Speech & Organizing

Empirical analysis and the use of data mining tools such as Gelphi, Json, Flocker and others have revealed the usage of automated, fake accounts in Mexican networks. A dirty war is being waged online by bots and trolls in Mexico. They disrupt dissenting conversation, inject fear and damage networks.

Rossana Reguillo was the target of an orchestrated attack on twitter. Data mining tools reveal that most of the accounts supporting the attack were bots and trolls. The threats containing misogynistic and hate speech also included a phishing link that appeared to redirect to twitter’s homepage but when clicked would steal a user’s password and other sensitive information.

The attack was mapped out by data mining experts who created the below visualization which shows the attack in real time. The graph shows the accounts that participated in the online attack against Rossana Reguillo, the green dot is the target and the lines between each node show the last 200 interactions at the time of the attack. The reason for the attack was her participation in demonstrations supporting Ayotzinapa.

Image: Jesús Robles Maloof and Rossana Arreguillo

Image: Jesús Robles Maloof and Rossana Arreguillo

These attacks lasted more than 2 months and changed strategies over time from sending memes to images of burned bodies indicating what would happen to the victim. Despite the suspension of numerous accounts by Twitter for violation of its Terms of Service, new accounts were opened very quickly indicating an operation that mobilized large amounts of human resources and technicians.

Making threats is a crime under Mexican law. Article 282 of the federal penal code stipulates a penalty of three months to one year in prison for behavior that in any way threatens to cause harm to another person. The penalty is increased if these acts are committed by public servants. A complaint was submitted to the PGR with sufficient evidence documenting the attacks. His response will be crucial as a lack of response only creates incentives for impunity.

Twitter changed its policy in March to combat harassment and abusive threats. Despite the policy change, twitter continues to show weakness in addressing the systematic attacks such as the bot campaign waged against Rossana Reguillo.

Tracking The Mexican Botnet: Connecting the Twitterbots

Mexico is one of the most dangerous places in the world to voice a dissenting opinion. Article 19 has documented spikes in aggressions against journalists and protesters. A journalist is assaulted every 26.7 hours in Mexico. In 2014, 326 attacks against journalists were recorded and 5 journalists were murdered. In the most dangerous parts of Mexico, self-censorship is the only defense against the onslaught of attacks. The country is experiencing the worst scenario for press freedom and the right to information of the last seven years.

Social media is the new public square. It is crucial that social media platforms implement better methods to protect users against threats online such as the massive bot attack against Rossana Reguillo.

The practice of governments and political actors to hire digital marketing agencies which include among their services to provide governments with “an army of accounts ready to turn Twitter into a battlefield” must be recognized as an emerging danger to freedom of expression.

Sources:
Sin Embargo
Cosecha Roja
Twitter spam as a weapon to drown voices of protest
Article 19
Reuters
Animal Politico
The Green Party of Mexico (PVEM) Prepares an Army of Trolls facing June 7 Elections

 

 

 

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About Author

Erin Gallagher is a multimedia artist, translator and writer for Revolution News.