By RICARDO CASTILLO
It would seem Mexico’s National Electoral Institute (INE) is irrigating the upcoming presidential elections with a holy hose. Just as they were trying last week to plug a hole with the elimination of two independent presidential hopefuls due to their alleged filing of fake voter credentials, this week INE’s hose has developed a new leak, and it’s a huge one: their contract with Facebook.
Here’s at least a bird’s eye view of the scoop on the new INE-Facebook headache that will surely grow a lot bigger as Facebook shares plummet in stock markets worldwide. Of course, this will go in tandem with the snowballing scandal of Cambridge Analytica that has Facebook on the verge of bankruptcy.
Early last February, INE president Lorenzo Córdova Vianello happily announced a new contract with Facebook to turn the upcoming July 1 Mexican elections into “a venturous lab in which different efforts of society, including industry and authorities, will conjugate to create a more robust context of democracy.” After Facebook, contracts with Twitter and Google were to ensue.
That was supposed to be the beginning of a wonderful honeymoon between INE and Facebook – and the networking media in general.
Since 2017 – when the contract negotiations were still underway – Facebook manager for Latin America Diego Bassante began announcing that his represented company could become an electoral loudspeaker (he used the old-fashioned word megaphone) to invite Facebookers to be linked to an informed source in order to get out the vote. This was what the contract was supposed to be about, including a series of services which the INE would also make available on radio and TV.
Several observant journalists tried to get a hold of the contract, but Facebook prevented the INE at the time from making it public immediately. After some haggling, the INE eventually published the contract in its network platform, which made it immediately evident that the contract had no arrangement or clause to prevent the circulations of fake news, as published on Feb. 13 by El Universal daily newspaper.
Moreover, the contract had not been signed by INE President Córdova Vianello, but rather by the institute’s executive secretary, Edmundo Jacobo, and legal representative, Gabriel Mendoza; signing for Facebook was Shane Crehan of Facebook Ireland Limited.
In the most relevant part of the El Universal article said that “during the electoral period, Facebook has the intention (but not the obligation) to see that some of its share of citizenry participation be available in its platform for Mexico.”
In exchange, “on election day, the INE would provide Facebook with real time information on the Preliminary Electoral Results Program (PREP),” and also supply with “a physical space” in the INE facilities for Facebook employees to carry out activities related to the elections, such as filming and posting live videos, as well as citizenry participation.
Then Iberian-American University and National Autonomous University of Mexico law professor Alejandro Cárdenas López published in Spanish a two-part analysis called “INE and the Agreement with Facebook: A Pact with the Devil?” (https://goo.gl/iJF3P1 and https://goo.gl/yXKTLh).
Professor Cárdenas pointed out that those services of “citizenry participation” are nothing but tools to penetrate the electoral market with advertising agreements which Facebook sells to the federal government, political parties and the INE itself.
Cárdenas expressed concerns because it could have very well been that Facebook made its public opinion penetration tools in the 2017 elections both in the State of Mexico and the state of Coahuila, where President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) won two highly controversial victories. The question remains if Facebook participated directly or indirectly in an electoral fraud in Mexico.
Adding insult to injury (if there was one, of course, well at least not for the Peña Nieto administration), the Cambridge Analytica scandal brought to light the fact that this company tried to set up shop in Mexico.
According to former Foreign Relations Secretary and columnist for El Financiero-Bloomberg Spanish daily paper, Jorge Castañeda, in the spring of 2017, Cambridge Analytica sent to Mexico what Ambassador Castañeda describes as a “North American” woman named “Arielle Dale Karro, a former model and poet” who was well known to current Senate President Ernesto Cordero. As of the summer, she announced that Cambridge Analytica was hiring managers for political campaigns and executives for political projects with wages ranging from $25 to $75 K. “This person interviewed several candidates, but apparently the idea did not prosper and Cambridge Analytica did not open an office in Mexico as such; this is what we know so far.”
But Castañeda – who has just joined the campaign of Ricardo Anaya – claims that “it is rumored” that Cambridge Analytica did participate in the State of Mexico for the governor campaign of Alfredo del Mazo, identifying willing voters and getting in touch with them, and bussing them to vote or vote for them.”
Finally, Castañeda poses three suppositions. One, Cambridge Analytica opened up in Mexico under a different name to avoid being related to the Trump campaign. Two, there is suspicion that they sought to work for the Institutional Revolutionary Party in several state elections this year and maybe on the presidential election. We don’t know for sure. And three, the “link” between Cambridge Analytica and the president’s office and the PRI campaigns would be Alejandra Lagunes, Peña Nieto’s networks director. Nothing is certain.
Please note that this is all suspicion, but regardless, the INE is now situated right inside the eye of the passing hurricane.
In fact, INE Electoral Councilor Marco Antonio Baños made it public Wednesday, March 21, and tried to tone down the general red lights blaring around the elections saying, “We’re going to revise with the Facebook people all the questions to avoid any instance of illegal foreign interference in the electoral process that might hurt either the political actors or the electoral institutions. There is no reason to worry.”
But, surely, this statement will not calm those who are already entering into panic mode, particularly after Cambridge Analytica executive Mark Turnbull on a television interview admitted that Cambridge Analytica also operated in Mexico.
INE President Córdova had better get rid of this cherry bomb he’s got in his hands pronto, because, sooner or later, it’s going to explode.