Twitter accounts masquerading as Cubans spread socialist propaganda

Roberto Bolle is one of the most handsome men in Italy. The statuesque classical ballet dancer and former UNICEF goodwill ambassador recently appeared in Tod’s advertising campaign along with Kendall Jenner, the world’s highest earning model.

Bolle has also modeled for Ferragamo and Giorgio Armani. Now his picture is being fraudulently used to spread political propaganda on Twitter. A user, who joined June 2017, published a shirtless picture of him to adopt the identity of Roberto Gonzalez and Mambi Roberto. 

A team with the Directorio Democratico Cuba, a Miami-based organization pushing for political diversity on the Communist island, believe the Cuban government is engaging on social media bot techniques that mimic the style of the Russian propaganda networks. 

“It’s a very racist effort,” said Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat, a spokesman for the organization. “They are using the pictures of white attractive public figures.”

Gutierrez-Boronat said there is centralized effort to use social media tools to amplify certain hashtags and messages to influence what’s trending. There are common Venezuelan socialist themes and Russian propagandist techniques in the accounts that the Directorio Democratico Cuba detected as attempting to masquerade as humans. 

“I am absolutely convinced the Castro regime is behind it, whether there are other helping them, it’s their strategy, it’s them leading it,” Gutierrez-Boronat said. 

The account using Bolle’s picture regularly shares posts by Twitter user Cubanito Cubano, an account using SumAll, a New York-based marketing service designed for business owners to automate posts. With 6,120 followers and two lists with some 100 members. 

 “We have tracked dozens of accounts like this, but we believe there are hundreds,” Gutierrez-Boronat said. 

The accounts post idyllic photos of the late Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez in uniform and have lists linking to accounts in Namibia, a country in southwest Africa, Brazil and Argentina. 

The Oxford Internet Institute and Indiana University researchers have documented the role of bot accounts in spreading misleading content during political events. Robert Gorwa, a political scientist leading the Computational Propaganda Project, has said Twitter needs to clamp down on third-party applications to make automation more difficult. 

“The reality is that Twitter is fighting a losing battle, and it is unwilling to deal with the possibility that state actors are using the platform for large-scale political interference,” Gorwa wrote last year

Cuba Debate, a site developed by Cuban college students in Santa Clara in 2003, has evolved into an international effort to spread political propaganda in seven languages. On Saturday, a writer for the site reported there were college students in Havana’s El Vedado neighborhood and other parts of the island using Twitter to campaign during an event they referred to as the “Twitazo.” 

Political candidates worldwide have been managing budgets to sway elections with the use of fraudulent accounts to promote their messages and attack their opponents for more than a decade now. The automated accounts, known by social media marketers as bots, are set up to impersonate supporters who share content regularly. 

“Anyone familiar with marketing, knows that an individual user is not really capable of these numbers. The activity is high,” said Silvia Gutierrez-Boronat, a spokeswoman for the Directorio Democratico Cubano. “These are dangerous because they can distort debate and influence people.” 

The Cubanito Cubano account has shared more than 7K tweets since April 2017 and it’s part of a botnet, a network of fake accounts. It is linked to the Cuba Vero account, which was set up in February 2015, and is fraudulently using the picture of Colombian actress Paola Rey, with some 13K followers and about 55K tweets. 

The Cuba Vero account  tweeted a picture of Vladimir Putin Wednesday with the link of a Mi Cuba Por Siempre wordpress blog that links back to a Cuba TV story. Political strategists worldwide continue to increasingly use specialized software or commercial analytical tools to detect their rivals bot-like behavior and use bots to energize supporters and increase their following. 

The account using the picture of the Italian ballet dancer who models recently shared a tweet by a Cuban federation of college students who support the Cuban Communist Party. The organization and students from the University of Information Science in Havana are campaign under the auspices of the Cuban government.

Cuban officials will be overseeing the parliamentary and provincial elections Sunday to select the members of the National Assembly of People’s Power that will elect Castro’s successor, who is likely going to be Miguel Diaz-Canel, the current vice president. 


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9. LIVESTRONG DICTIONARY: The app allows users to search more than 6,000 English and Spanish terms defined by the National Cancer Institute. Download here: iPhone 

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