Disinformation, covertness and polarisation at the verge of uncertainty

The years during which the peace process lasted were a time of great uncertainty for Colombians. Several failed dialogues preceded these talks, which had many ups and downs that, respectively, created both optimism and pessimism about the outcomes of the peace talks in Havana. When the final agreement was announced, and the campaign for and against its endorsement started, social media interactions on this issue increased (Salazar 2017). Some of the exchanges caused three main harmful effects on democracy.

The discrete charm of disinformation

Some of the most prominent traits of the peace agreement were its complexity, technical language and extent (Revista Semana 2016b). This made it challenging for non-experts to grasp the scope and limits of the accord, which in turn fed the opportunity of spreading false news, also known as “junk news”, about the agreement’s content (Venturini 2019; Liotsiou, Kollanyi, and Howard 2019). Most of the disinformation shared included images of sports figures, singers and politicians with false messages supporting or rejecting the peace agreement (Ceron 2016).

Furthermore, some of the opposition’s messages aimed to spark religious concerns about the deal, by claiming that it had an agenda called “gender ideology”. In their view, this agenda aimed to change the role of men and women in society and give more rights to women and the LGTBI population, which they argued was opposed to their religious beliefs (Gomez-Suarez 2016). Others intended to activate public fears about having FARC-ЕР combatants as political leaders or of the economic conditions decreasing due to FARC-EP’s affiliation with communist political ideas, for instance comparing Colombia with Venezuela.

Some of these messages were featured both in online and offline scenarios. For example, a billboard ad in the city of Santa Marta showcased a picture of Timochenko, FARC’s main leader, claiming that a yes to the plebiscite would give him the chance to be Colombia’s president with the support of Cuba and Venezuela. A picture of the advertisement was widely shared in a broad range of social media platforms (El Tiempo 2016).

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