Fake news spreads over WhatsApp ahead of Brazil's presidential election

22 October, 2018, 14:02 | Author: Tara Reeves
  • AFP | Far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro is favored to win Brazil's October 28 presidential election

Brazilian media reported that well-heeled supporters of Jair Bolsonaro paid for messaging by third-party agencies, each paying up to 12 million reais (€2.8m) to spread tens of thousands of attack ads.

Facebook Inc's WhatsApp messaging service became the frontline in Brazil's bitter presidential campaign on Friday, as front-runner Jair Bolsonaro angrily denied accusations he had encouraged widespread misinformation campaigns on the platform.

The announcement came after the electoral court said it would look into allegations Bolsonaro had illegally sanctioned several defamatory mass messaging attacks via WhatsApp in an attempt to undermine his rival.

Haddad and his allies have urged an investigation and threatened a flurry of legal action, as the race that lawmaker Bolsonaro is expected to win by a landslide on October 28 reaches its final stretch.

WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, is the preferred social media service for Brazilians.

WhatsApp said it takes the allegations seriously and is "taking immediate legal action to stop companies from sending bulk messages", including cease-and-desist letters to the companies in question.

"We have cutting-edge technology to detect spam that identifies accounts with abnormal behavior so that they can't be used to spread spam or misinformation", a WhatsApp spokesperson wrote in an email. Flavio Bolsonaro tweeted Friday when he initially revealed his account had been blocked.

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"The persecution knows no limits!"

Flavio Bolsonaro tweeted a screenshot of his smartphone showing a message in Portuguese saying: "Your telephone number ... is banned from using WhatsApp".

Bolsonaro's rival, Fernando Haddad, said that, if true, the scheme would amount to illegal campaign practices and asked Brazil's electoral court to investigate.

It is unclear what effect, if any, the accusations will have on opinion polls.

Bolsonaro has run as an anti-establishment candidate despite representing Rio de Janeiro state as a federal congressman for almost three decades. Several political parties, including Haddad's Workers' Party, are jointly requesting that Bolsonaro be declared ineligible for 8 years for abuse of economic power and misuse of digital communication.

The candidate's son, Carlos Bolsonaro, accused "Folha" and Mr Haddad's Workers Party (PT) of "telling half-truths or decontextualised lies" in a post on Twitter.

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