Newly elected Colombian congressperson spread falsehoods on his YouTube channel prior to election
Elected congressman Jonathan Ferney Pulido Hernández posted misleading videos targeting Colombian President Iván Duque and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
Colombian congressperson-elect Jonathan Ferney Pulido Hernández campaigned as a journalist and politician fighting against corruption, but his social media content revealed him to be politically inconsistent and a spreader of misinformation. Prior to his campaign, Pulido was primarily a YouTube personality in Colombia. He amassed more than 1 million engagements on his YouTube channel and official Facebook page, posting videos of inflammatory and misleading content targeting Colombian President Iván Duque and the Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela.
After the March 13, 2022, elections, Colombian media interviewed Pulido to highlight that, at 30 years old, he garnered 189,291 votes in his first electoral campaign, making him the third most popular candidate overall — his vote total was only exceeded by Miguel Uribe Turbay and María Fernanda Cabal, two long-established candidates from Duque’s Centro Democrático party– and the highest vote recipient from the Coalición Alianza Verde y Centro Esperanza party.
Pulido often presented his YouTube videos as news. He told the media that he built his journalistic career while working as a content creator on social media. Pulido’s YouTube channel, which mainly contains videos labeled “Noticias 24 Horas” (“24 hours news”), is registered in the music category. Pulido is also a Christian singer, under the stage name Jota Pe Hernández. His early posts on Facebook and YouTube put forth a preaching tone — combining dramatic background music with messages such as “urgent!,” “shocking!,” “incredible!,” or “beware!” Moreover, Pulido continued to employ his singing skills in music videos focusing on politics, such as one targeting the Colombian government on June 21, 2021.
While most Colombian media — from independent to national outlets — reported with surprise Pulido’s arrival to the political arena, fact-checking website Colombiacheck analyzed how Pulido misleadingly claimed in separate videos that Duque would be captured amid the 2021 protests.
Pulido’s videos also presented the results of Facebook polls about the presidential election as though they were the results of official polling, Colombiacheck found. In one example, Pulido shared a poll that claimed independent presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez would receive the second-highest number of votes. At the time, an official poll certified by Colombia’s electoral authorities had placed Hernandez in third or fourth place. On May 23, 2022, Pulido posted a video supporting Hernandez’s campaign. Viewed as an outsider and a populist, Hernandez received 28 percent of the vote in the May 29 presidential election. He faced — and lost to — Gustavo Petro, a leftist guerilla, in a runoff election held on June 19.
Following Pulido’s election on March 13, Antonio Sanguino, a congressperson from the Alianza Verde party, identified ideological positions within Pulido’s Twitter posts — from before his entry into politics in 2021– that contradicted the positions on which he had campaigned. For example, Sanguino highlighted how Pulido had previously declared support for uribistas (those who support former right-wing president Álvaro Uribe), however, Pulido later criticized an uribista during his campaign on January 31, 2022. Sanguino also showed Pulido using hate speech to attack Petro and Margarita Rosa De Francisco, a famous actress and prominent Petro supporter.
On March 19, 2022, Pulido posted a video apologizing to Petro and De Francisco, admitting he was previously fanatical toward Uribe. He described himself as an “alternative-center” senator not aligned with right or left-wing politicians.
Millions of engagements
Pulido’s largest social media audiences are on Facebook and YouTube, where he has been active the longest and has received millions of followers and interactions. On Instagram and Twitter, Pulido’s content has reached thousands of users.
Pulido joined YouTube on October 18, 2011, as Jota Pe Hernández. With 529 videos uploaded as of May 24, 2022, the YouTube channel had garnered 42 million views and 1.18 million subscribers by that date, according to the social media listening tool Social Blade.
Pulido created his Facebook page, also named Jota Pe Hernández, on June 29, 2010. According to a query conducted using Meta-owned social media listening tool CrowdTangle, Jota Pe Hernández had more than 961,000 followers and 26.3 million interactions (reactions, shares, and comments) as of May 24, 2022. The Jota Pe Hernández page has published 915 posts (photos, links, statuses, and videos), of which 491, or 54 percent, are videos. Pulido’s videos have garnered over 25 million interactions and nearly 194 million views.
Pulido-linked account shares misleading content to Facebook groups
Before posting political content on his YouTube channel, Pulido posted videos promoting his singing career. Of the videos still available on his channel, one of the first to share political content was posted on July 23, 2019. After the channel shifted to appear as a news platform, Pulido began to spread false and misleading videos that targeted the Duque government, the Maduro regime, and uribistas.
Pulido used his Facebook page to promote his YouTube videos. The first 540 posts on the Jota Pe Hernández Facebook page, posted between June 29, 2010, and November 18, 2015, promoted Pulido’s singing career and Christian views. The page then went dormant until May 10, 2020, when Pulido reemerged to share a music video dedicated to his mother.
Meanwhile, another Facebook account, named Hernandez Jonathan, may be linked to Pulido. The profile name uses Pulido’s first name (Jonathan) and second last name (Hernandez) — surnames in Latin America and Spain are often comprised of the father’s and mother’s last names — while the URL shows his first name and two last names, Facebook.com/JonathanPulidoHernandez. The account’s profile picture is of Colombia’s presidential palace, and the cover photo is of Colombia’s national capitol building. The account has a public video post from May 13 in which Salvadorean President Nayib Bukele criticizes opposition deputies and congresspeople. On his official Facebook page, Pulido has supported Bukele and said he would use the same tactics as Bukele to fight against corruption.
The Hernandez Jonathan Facebook page has shared links to Pulido’s YouTube videos in five Facebook groups that target the Venezuelan diaspora in Colombia and the United States, as well as supporters of the opposition to the Maduro regime in Venezuela. Between August 8, 2017, and September 7, 2021, the Hernandez Jonathan Facebook page made more than 160 posts sharing Pulido’s videos in the Facebook groups. Nearly 120 of the videos shared before July 23, 2019, are no longer available on YouTube.
Some posts made by Hernandez Jonathan in the Facebook groups showed signs of coordinated behavior as they used identical text and were posted across all five Facebook groups within the same hour, including some within the same minute.
In another example, the Hernandez Jonathan Facebook page again used identical descriptions when posting a Pulido video to the Facebook groups. Four of the five posts were made within the same hour, two within the same minute. In the video, Pulido claimed without evidence that members of Maduro’s inner circle had betrayed him; all of the mentioned individuals support and work alongside Maduro. The video also shared out-of-context clipsstatements of Maduro and former US President Donald Trump.
While Pulido may be motivated by his political aspirations to spread misleading narratives, there are also economic incentives. Pulido offers a monthly subscription for supporters on his Facebook page for $4.99. On YouTube, Social Blade estimates his monthly earnings could be between $21 and $339.
Social discontent results in social media engagements
A historical analysis of Pulido’s Facebook and YouTube accounts revealed that his followers increased significantly after large-scale protests erupted in Colombia on April 28, 2021. On Facebook, the Jota Pe Hernández page increased its total followers from 49,013 in March 2021 to 109,788 and 413,389, as of April and May 2021, respectively.
Between March and May 2021, the Facebook page’s monthly interactions increased from 233 to more than 5.3 million, while the monthly views skyrocketed from zero to more than 41 million.
Pulido’s YouTube channel also had significant growth in subscribers and monthly views.
The video on Jota Pe Hernández’s Facebook page with the most interactions — 537,701 — was posted on May 2, 2021, four days after the protests began. The video shared both true and false information to criticize Duque for mobilizing the army during the protests, claiming a police armored truck had run over protesters. The video is filmed from an angle that appears to show a police armored truck running over the protesters, but, in reality, the truck passed near the protesters at high speed without causing any injuries or deaths. Pulido had claimed the truck drove over the protesters, saying this was the same tactic Maduro used against Venezuelan protesters.
The DFRLab used BuzzSumo to analyze Pulido’s YouTube videos in the one-year period after the protests began on April 27, 2021. Two out of the six most-viewed videos misleadingly claimed that Duque would be captured and face a judiciary process for his response to the protests. The first video, the most popular on the channel, was posted on May 9, 2021, and amassed more than 496,000 views. The second video, posted on May 30, 2021, has been viewed nearly 306,000 times.
Both videos cite a press release calling for Duque’s detention that was first published by Fundación Internacional de Derechos Humanos, a Spanish nongovernmental organization connected to center-leftist party Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE). Fact-checking organization Colombiacheck debunked Pulido’s videos, clarifying that the Spanish NGO does not have the jurisdiction to arrest or charge Duque.
Pulido has risen in politics after building a career online as an influencer that attacks the corrupt. However, some of his videos, including the ones that have garnered the most views and interactions, rely on sensationalism and indignation to gain traction.
Cite this story:
Daniel Suárez Pérez, “Newly elected Colombian congressperson spread falsehoods on his YouTube channel prior to election,” Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), June 24, 2022, https://medium.com/DFRLab/newly-elected-colombian-congressperson-spread-falsehoods-on-his-youtube-channel-prior-to-election-1b79eb011f19.