RIO DE JANEIRO – In 2018, Brazilian voters were inundated with lies ahead of the presidential election, including many who favored then-candidate Jair Bolsonaro, which helped secure him in office.
This year, the misinformation persisted, but it was also less prevalent, according to experts. This is partly due to efforts by tech companies to crack down on intentionally misleading posts, as well as Strict action by the Supreme Court of Brazil And election officials to force companies to remove content.
One of the Supreme Court justices in particular, Alexandre de Moraes, ordered the large social networks To remove thousands of posts, saying they were spreading “fake news” or that the people who spread it threatened the court. Few, if any, large democracies have directly and repeatedly influenced what can be said on the Internet, and may It sparked controversy in Brazilian society Transform how far too far away from the government 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.”
First, the algorithms intended to block misinformation are flawed. And even when such content is removed from one platform, it often finds an audience restricted to another, less strict platform. False content has also become more accurate, favoring distorted or misleading facts that are often difficult to refute.
“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.”
In Brazil, disinformation is also spread directly among people who may know each other, which makes it less accessible, but also means it carries more weight with recipients. “Everyone is no longer being sent lies,” says Ms. Nalon. “We see misinformation circulating in specialist groups, in church groups.”
The most worrisome category of disinformation this year has been posts suggesting that the Brazilian left is plotting to rig elections against Mr. Bolsonaro. The president himself has pushed this theory, sparking debate on the Brazilian internet.
“Stop Theft” videos repeating the president’s false allegations of fraud have attracted millions of views on YouTube and Facebook, according to SumOfUs, an advocacy group that aims to hold companies accountable. The group 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 that cast doubt on the electoral process in Brazil to run on their platforms.
Cyabra, a social media analytics company, 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, Luis 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.
While misleading content in favor of Mr da Silva does exist online, Ms Nalon says it is rare to see the left promoting blatant lies or unfounded conspiracies. Instead, left-leaning publications have focused on exploiting Mr Bolsonaro’s poor record, including his failed handling of the pandemic.
“There is a lot of bad talk” from Mr Bolsonaro, says Ms. Nalon. “But it’s more of a propaganda tone.”
Mr Bolsonaro has dismissed polls that show he is trailing Mr. da Silva, who has been leading in double digits for months. Similar to the president, it was a recent viral clip of Brazil’s biggest nighttime newscast Manipulated to appear The presenter of the fake opinion poll puts Mr. Bolsonaro well ahead of his leftist rival.
However, many Brazilians have learned valuable lessons during the pandemic, which has seen a constant barrage of misinformation about the coronavirus and the vaccine, much of which Bolsonaro himself has promoted.
“People are more critical now, and they are more vigilant,” says Mr. Rüdiger. “They don’t fall for every lie.”
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