Facebook’s WhatsApp flooded with fake news in Brazil election

Rodiano Bonacci
Ottobre 22, 2018

Jair Bolsonaro (PSL) said he has no control over the purchase of Whatsapp message blasts by companies that intend on spreading anti-PT content.

The Social messaging service WhatsApp has now become an important way through which Brazilians keep in touch with family, friends, colleagues.

On Thursday, the latter accused his competitor of receiving illegal and undeclared corporate donations after local newspaper Folha de S.Paulo reported companies are paying for a mass social media campaign against Mr Haddad.

Justice Rosa Weber, president of the Electoral High Court (TSE), will release a statement on Friday (19th).

In Brazil, Social networking service WhatsApp has more than 120 million users, rivalling the reach of Facebook's main platform in one of the company's biggest global markets.

The messaging app allows groups of hundreds of users to exchange encrypted texts, photos and video out of the view of authorities or independent fact checkers, enabling the rapid spread of misinformation with no way to track its source or full reach.

The day before, WhatsApp said it had banned hundreds of thousands of accounts during the election period, with spam detection technology spotting accounts engaged in automated "bot" behaviour. "We are also taking immediate legal measures to prevent companies from sending mass messages via WhatsApp and have already banned accounts associated with those companies".

Yet new questions arose on Friday about the effectiveness and consequences of that technology.

The messaging service confirmed that it blocked the account of Mr Bolsonaro's son Flavio for spam a couple of days ago.

It remains unclear whether the accusations have had any bearing on opinion polls. Bolsonaro supporters were more likely to follow political news on the platform with 61 percent saying they did so, compared to 38 percent of Haddad voters.

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.

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