RIO DE JANEIRO – In 2018, Brazilian voters were inundated with lies ahead of the presidential election; Much of the content favored then-candidate Jair Bolsonaro, and that helped bring him to the presidency.
This year, misinformation persisted, but it was less widespread, according to experts. This is partly due to efforts by tech companies to eliminate intentionally misleading posts, as well as Strict action by the Federal Supreme Court Brazil and election officials to force companies to remove content.
In particular, the judge of the court, Alexandre de Moraes, ordered the major social media companies to do so Thousands of posts have been deletedSaying that they were spreading “false news” or that those who spread it had threatened the court. Few, if any, large democracies have directly and repeatedly influenced what can be said online, generating debate in brazilian societywith many wondering how far the government can go in cracking down on disinformation.
Experts say results have been mixed so far. “This was necessary, it was positive, but it was not enough,” says Marco Aurelio Rudiger, director of the School of Communication at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Rio de Janeiro. “Because the amount of fake news is too big.”
For their part, the algorithms aimed at identifying misinformation are flawed. And even when this content is removed from one platform, it often finds an audience restricted to another, less strict network. Fake content has also become more accurate, tending to distorted or misleading facts that are often difficult to debunk.
“These are not outright lies,” says Tai Nalon, head of Brazil’s disinformation research group, Tai Nalon. “But they misrepresent a fact, ask a question, or leave out context.”
Disinformation in Brazil also spreads directly to people who may know each other, making it less accessible but often carrying more weight with recipients. “They no longer send lies to everyone,” says Nalon. “We see misinformation circulating in specialist groups, in church groups.”
This year, the most worrisome misinformation has been leaflets citing the Brazilian left’s plans to rig elections against Bolsonaro. The president himself promoted this theory, which sparked debate on the Brazilian Internet.
According to SumOfUs, an advocacy group aimed at corporate accountability, “Stop Theft” videos paraphrasing the president’s false fraud allegations have drawn millions of views on YouTube and Facebook. That organization released a report last week that said Google and Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, had allowed thousands of ads, videos and posts conveying doubts about the electoral process in Brazil to be posted on their platforms.
Cyabra, a social media research firm, analyzed posts from 4,440 accounts discussing Brazilian voting systems on Twitter, TikTok or Facebook in recent weeks, and found that 6 percent of posts came from non-native accounts, reaching 1.3 million people.
Some publications also attacked Bolsonaro’s main rival, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the former leftist president. Some publications have falsely claimed that he plans to close churches and turn the country into an oppressive communist state.
Despite having misleading content in favor of da Silva, Nalon says it’s rare to see the left promoting blatant lies or unfounded conspiracies. Instead, left-leaning publications have focused on highlighting Bolsonaro’s poor record, including his failed handling of the pandemic.
“There is very bad talk” about Bolsonaro, says Nalon. “But it is more of a propaganda tone….”
Bolsonaro dismissed polls that put him behind da Silva, who has been leading in double digits for months. Echoing the president, a recent viral clip from Brazil’s biggest nighttime newscast manipulated To show the host presents a fake opinion poll that puts Bolsonaro far ahead of his leftist rival.
However, many Brazilians learned valuable lessons during the pandemic when there was a constant barrage of misinformation about the coronavirus and the vaccine, much of which Bolsonaro himself has spread.
“People are now more important, more vigilant,” Rudiger says. “They don’t fall for every lie.”
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