MEXICO CITY - No, a candidate in Mexico's upcoming presidential election did not pose nude with a drag queen.
No, the wife of another candidate is not the granddaughter of a Nazi.
And no, a third contender did not vow to win the election by buying votes.
Those and other rumors have been debunked by a team of young journalists fighting against falsehoods that have circulated widely before the July 1 election.
About two dozen fact-checkers work around the clock knocking down fake news and verifying or refuting campaign claims. Their platform, Verificado 18, works like a news service, with their fact-checks disseminated throughout the country via a large network of newspapers and online sites.
Fake news is everywhere in Mexico, pushed on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter by sham news sites and armies of digital bots. It's been a problem since before the issue gained worldwide attention in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, with online disinformation campaigns playing a key role in Mexican politics since the country's 2012 presidential race.
"There's an information war," said Alba Mora Roca, a video journalist who is helping lead the fact-checking effort. "We're defenders of the truth."
The platform was forged by two news websites — Mexico's Animal Politico and AJ+ — and an organization called PopUp Newsroom, which led similar efforts to fact-check, verify and debunk claims made during the last U.S. election and in France's 2017 presidential campaign. About 70 other media outlets, including some of Mexico's most-read newspapers, have signed on to distribute the content.
Although it was launched only last month, the platform is already having an effect, said Carlos Bravo Regidor, a political analyst and a professor at CIDE, a public research center in Mexico City.
Misinformation designed to smear candidates spreads like a virus, Bravo said. Verificado 18, he said, is "creating the antibodies to combat fake news."
The group has debunked dozens of widely circulated internet myths and fake videos. In one clip manipulated with superimposed images and fake Spanish subtitles, two Russian news anchors appear to announce that Russian President Vladimir Putin is endorsing Mexico's populist front-runner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Verificado 18 confirmed that the subtitles were fabricated and that the original newscast had nothing to do with Mexico.
While each of the five candidates on the presidential ballot has been targeted by made-up smears, Lopez Obrador is the most frequent victim, according to Verificado 18. Roughly 80 percent of fake stories, memes and videos identified by the group have targeted Lopez Obrador, who is running for president for a third time and is polling 10 points ahead of his nearest competitor, center-right candidate Ricardo Anaya. Much of the content targeting Lopez Obrador originates from several Facebook pages that are designed to look like news websites and have hundreds of thousands of followers.