Disinformation, a major factor in the electoral debate in Brazil

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Rio de Janeiro (AFP) – Three months before the Brazilian presidential election, misinformation about the two main candidates, President Jair Bolsonaro and ex-leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, is having a major impact.

The huge volume of fake news, the creation of new social media platforms and increasingly complex content have made it even more difficult to verify information.

The amount of content verified by AFP more than quadrupled between January and June.

Producers of fake election news first cut their teeth on a very different subject: the coronavirus.

“Electoral content has invaded the space” previously dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic, said Sergio Ludtke, the coordinator of the Comprova information verification collective made up of 42 media outlets, including AFP.

“The pandemic was probably a testing period for these groups” producing fake news, he added, saying it subsequently became “a political event”.

And with the October election approaching, verification is becoming “much more complicated” than it was four years ago.

Covid misinformation has taken “a new form that has permeated politics, economics, science,” said Joyce Souza, a digital communications specialist at the University of Sao Paulo.

From messages questioning the safety of vaccines, the main form of viral disinformation now revolves around distrust of the electoral system, whether it be opinion polls or electronic voting.

Electronic voting was originally implemented across the country in the 2000 elections to combat fraud, but Bolsonaro is not a fan and has questioned the method, calling for paper votes and public counting .

“Generate Doubt”

The last elections of 2018 featured large amounts of false and misleading information, especially on WhatsApp. But they were easier to identify.

“What we’re seeing now is content that isn’t necessarily false per se, but leads to misleading interpretations,” Ludtke said.

That’s what happened in May in a tweet that questioned an opinion poll for “only” sampling 1,000 people.

This number was true, but the suggestion that it was insufficient was inaccurate.

Experts told AFP it was enough to make a projection as long as the sample accurately represented the diversity of the population.

“One of the strategies of the complex disinformation scenario is to generate doubt in the social media user, by mixing things up so much that (the user) no longer knows who to trust,” said Pollyana Ferrari, communication specialist who coordinates the facts. verification at PUC Catholic University.

Popular new social media platforms that allow rapid sharing of video content have made it easier to spread misinformation NELSON ALMEIDA AFP/File

Such strategies also play on emotions, Souza said, further distorting facts and facilitating rapid transmission.

Since the 2018 elections, social media platforms such as Telegram, TikTok and Kwai, which enable rapid posting and manipulation of visual content, have grown in popularity.

“Vector of disinformation”

The latest polls last week had Lula in the lead with 47% of voting intentions for the October 2 election, compared to 28% for Bolsonaro.

But some content targets these polls in an effort to reduce public trust in pollsters.

A video apparently showing Brazilian football fans chanting “Lula, thief!” in a full stadium started doing the rounds recently and has been viewed more than 100,000 times on a single platform alongside the question: “Is this the leader in opinion polls?”

But the audio had been edited using a tool on TikTok.

For Ferrari, TikTok symbolizes the face of disinformation, a more dynamic and even humorous face.

“Like a virus, the fake contaminates the hearing, distorts the vision, settles in the mind and hides behind the humor of the meme,” she said.

By being “harmless, it becomes a vector of disinformation”.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal said in a recent document that “false or out-of-context information affects value judgments, forcing people to decide based on erroneous preconceptions.”

Souza believes that this content “destroys rational debate in society and makes hatred prevail over public debate”.

The problem is that sophisticated misinformation lasts, Ludtke said, and “probably stays in certain sectors of society.”

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