Hashtags targeting Mexico’s President Lopez Obrador intensified amid his handling of the COVID-19 crisis
As criticism of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s initial response to COVID-19 mounted, the use of anti-AMLO hashtags has also gone up on Twitter. April 2020 saw the second highest number of trending hashtags opposing the president since he took office in December 2018.
AMLO’s approval rating is the highest of any president in Mexico since 1994, yet that number has gone down in recent months. In his first 100 days in office, between the end of 2018 and beginning of 2019, the president’s approval rating was at 78 percent, particularly high in comparison with that of his predecessor, Former President Enrique Peña Nieto, who ended his term with 28 percent approval.
A spike in violence and homicides (including a high rate of femicides) and zero economic growth in 2019, combined with a lackluster response to the COVID-19 crisis in early 2020, have generated criticism and impacted the president’s approval rating, which had dropped to 60 percent by March 2020.
In Mexico, Twitter is one of the most popular social media platforms, with more than 10 million users. Discussions of AMLO’s popularity have led to polarized trending hashtags. Between March 1, 2019 and April 20, 2020, around 391 unique hashtags have trended on Twitter either in favor of or against López Obrador, with the most used hashtags being #AMLOEstamosContigo (“AMLO, we are with you”), #RenunciaAMLO (“Resign, AMLO”), #AMLOElPuebloTeApoya (“AMLO, the people support you”), and #AMLOElFracasoPresidencial (“AMLO: the presidential failure”).
To analyze Mexico’s trending hashtags on Twitter during this period, the DFRLab used the trending topic monitor tool Tredinalia, which allows users to search for trends by date and region. We collected a total of 155,707 trending topics in Mexico, including both keywords and hashtags, and focused on the latter.
During the period of time reviewed, an average of 5,142 hashtags trended on Twitter each month.
Based on those hashtags, the DFRLab classified trends containing the following keywords: AMLO, López (or Lopez), and Obrador, and manually labeled hashtags according to its political leaning: that is, whether the hashtag was in support of or in opposition to the president.
The results show a higher number of opposition-related hashtags trending, especially around the first anniversary of AMLO’s presidency in November 2019, and amid the COVID-19 crisis in April 2020. In November 2019, some of the hashtags that trended were #AMLOEsUnPeligroParaMexico (“AMLO is a danger to Mexico”) and #AMLORenunciaYa (“AMLO, resign now”). In April, opposing hashtags were related to his COVID-19 response. In particular, the hashtags trending in March and April 2020 amid the coronavirus outbreak registered the highest volume of tweet activity dedicated to discussing AMLO in Mexico in 2020 so far.
Trending hashtags amid the COVID-19 crisis
Hashtags critical of AMLO have proliferated amid the COVID-19 crisis. Since March 1, 2020, nearly 70 hashtags have trended on Twitter in opposition to AMLO, while only about 20 hashtags have trended in support of him.
According to a DFRLab search query conducted using the social media monitoring tool Brandwatch, hashtags in opposition to AMLO garnered in total more than 1,300,000 tweets between March 1 and April 20, 2020, while those in favor gathered nearly 800,000 in the same period. In other words, each hashtag trending in favor of Mexico’s president amassed, on average, around 40,000 tweets, whereas opposition-related trending hashtags garnered nearly 18,800 tweets on average.
Some of the hashtags trended on Twitter more than once. In other words, they resumed accumulating posts after the first trending period was over. The following table shows the top 10 most-used polarized hashtags between March 1 and April 20, 2020, both in support of and in opposition to AMLO.
Although some of these hashtags have been used previously in 2019 or early in 2020, they trended again after Twitter accounts began discussing AMLO’s initial response to the COVID-19 crisis, including his reaction to the outbreak, his decision to allow mass gatherings amid the pandemic, and his otherwise downplaying of the crisis.
On April 5, AMLO pitched an economic plan to confront the pandemic. On Twitter, accounts expressed disappointment in the plan, pushing hashtags against such as #AMLOSeVa (“AMLO leaves”) and #AMLOFueraYa (“AMLO out already”). Accounts supportive of AMLO, on the other hand, pushed hashtags such as #AMLOCumple (“AMLO delivers”) and #AMLOEstamosContigo (“AMLO we are with you”).
In the days that followed, slightly altered versions of the hashtag #AMLOSeVa, using the same keywords but with the addition of a number at the end (e.g., #AMLOSeVa2, #AMLOSeVa10, #AMLOSeVa11), trended. The DFRLab identified at least 1,142 profiles using these hashtags that were set up after Mexico’s president pitched his economic plan.
A subset of newly created accounts that all tweet on the same topics may be a sign of bot or otherwise inauthentic activity. But during crisis events, like a global pandemic, certain online behaviors that appear abnormal in usual circumstances may in fact be driven by authentic users reacting to the crisis. In this case, it could be that people who had thus far been absent on Twitter felt compelled to create accounts to voice their concerns with AMLO’s economic plan. These new accounts posted around 27,000 tweets between April 5 and 20, using hashtags that included the keywords “AMLO Se Va.” This volume of tweets represents nearly 13 percent of all mentions to these hashtags. According to a search query conducted using Brandwatch, these hashtags garnered more than 200,000 tweets posted by 35,538 accounts.
Twitter accounts have extensively used anti-AMLO hashtags since AMLO took office on December 1, 2018. Accounts in support of AMLO, however, have also pushed hashtags aiming to support the president to trend, creating a highly polarized environment on Twitter in Mexico. Data analysis indicates that the polarized hashtags have increased in volume at specific milestones in AMLO’s presidency, such as his first 100 days in office, his first year in office, and the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak in Mexico.
Esteban Ponce de León is a Research Assistant, Latin America, with the Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).
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