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Forced to flee Mexico for exposing government bots – now Alberto has built a computer program that can expose them

February 18, 2023

By Klas Granström

Alberto Escorcia, a cyber expert from Mexico, has developed a computer program that can identify what are bots and what are real, human, accounts on Twitter. “It took us 12 years to come up with,” says he, who himself was forced to flee the country after exposing the government’s cyber army.

The Mexican journalist and cyber expert Alberto Escorcia visited the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and the Journalists’ Association conference on safety for journalists in Stockholm this week to talk about the information war going on in Mexico.

He himself is one of those affected by the government’s troll armies and online bots, Mexico is also one of the countries where the problem with bots that spread false information online was first discovered.

– In Mexico, it started in earnest back in 2009 when the government launched an army of bots tasked with attacking and discrediting journalists. Many of the strategies and techniques that are used today with the help of troll armies have also been developed in Mexico and then spread to other countries, he says.

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A development that is connected to the fact that social media overtook television as by far the largest and most important media in the country.

In 2015, Alberto Escorcia testified in an article, which was published in the American The Wired , about how the government orchestrated bots on social media to hinder journalists and activists. Which led to over 2,000 death threats on social media, and him having to flee the country. 

First Alberto Escorcia came to Spain, now he has been granted asylum in Sweden for the next three years. For many years he has also – together with other computer experts – worked on developing the computer program Hoaxy2. 

It can thus identify what are bots and what are real accounts on Twitter. The beta version of Hoaxy2 is open for anyone to use.

Alberto Escorcia considers the situation in Mexico to be even worse today than when he was forced to flee.

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– Now even religious actors and other groups in society have understood how bots can be used to spread misinformation. Groups that no longer need to be convinced by the government to do so, he tells Journalisten.

Crister Olsson, head of security at Bonnier News says that they currently do not use any programs to map bots or where a “shitstorm” is coming from.

– But we have looked at some of the companies that offer such solutions, and I think it is interesting for the future, he tells Journalisten.

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PHOTO: Klas Granström