The “all-terrain vehicle” myth

July, 2020

While the debate about WhatsApp in Colombia has made headlines, there are not many inputs on the topic. To provide a first look at the issue, in 2018 Linterna Verde produced the report entitled Politics (on WhatsApp) is Dynamic, which focused on disinformation during the presidential elections that year. There we reached the conclusion, among others, that WhatsApp by itself does not coordinate or mobilize: “Its true force lies in the way is supports and strengthens ongoing social and political processes.”

This time, we wanted to focus on last year’s regional elections, where territorial conditions, the scope of the campaigns and the use of the platform presented a different scenario. Specifically, we address two questions: How was WhatsApp used in regional campaigns, and what relationship was there between that use and disinformation?

In order to understand how they were using the platform, this research was based on reporting work consisting of twenty (20) semi-structured and off-the-record interviews of candidates and campaign workers for mayors and governors in Bogota, Cali, Medellin and Barranquilla. At the same time, unofficial conversations were held with employees of companies that provide mass messaging services, in order to get an idea of the scope and limitations of these services. Additionally, at the request of Linterna Verde, the polling organization Cifras y Conceptos included a model on the use of WhatsApp in the ‘Polimétrica’ survey in October 2019, in the four cities mentioned above.

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