Brazilian voters are being bombarded with misinformation online less than a week ago they choose their next leader.
People on social media falsely say that the leftist candidate in the Brazilian presidential election plans to close churches if elected. There are lies that Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva wanted to let boys use the school’s public restrooms next to the little girls. And they are falsely accusing the right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro made comments confessing to cannibalism and pedophilia.
Unfounded and politically motivated rumors are spreading through social media in Latin America’s largest democracy, rocking Brazilian politics like US politics was filmed. The onslaught of rumors helped spur Brazil last week to enact what some experts have called the strictest limits on speech in the country’s nascent democracy.
It was a conundrum posed by worldwide social network, especially in countries that are at odds with the intersection of modern technology and freedom of expression. Brazil has adopted a particularly heavy-handed approach. Experts say that in doing so authorities have raised questions about the country’s commitment to free speech.
“What is happening in Brazil, on Facebook, on YouTube and other platforms looks a lot like what is happening in Brazil,” said Vicky Wyatt, campaign director of US-based activist group SumOfUs. America in the 2020 election.
“An individual post may not have that much reach, but cumulatively over time, this constant drip will lead to negative consequences.”
The top electoral court intervened
In general, conservative channels generate more content – and more false, problematic content.
According to an Igarape Institute tally, in the eight days before and after October 2nd round of votingthe rightmost YouTube channels attract 99 million views while the leftmost channels have 28 million views.
Political and opposition analysts have expressed concern that Bolsonaro’s internet army could help him challenge the outcome if he loses by spreading unfounded propaganda. allegation of fraud.
The Supreme Electoral Court, the country’s top election body, announced on Thursday that it would ban content that “seriously misleading or poorly written” “affects the integrity of the process.” vote”. No request from the prosecutor or the complainant is necessary for the court to act.
In the days before and immediately after the second round of the election on October 30, social media companies like YouTube and Meta – the owners of Facebook and Instagram – will only have an hour, much less than before, to remove problematic content. No company has commented.
Non-compliant platforms will face fines of up to 150,000 reis ($28,000) per hour and can be blocked on Brazilian servers for up to 24 hours.
President of the Electoral Council, Judge of the Supreme Court Alexandre de Moraessaid the “aggressiveness of this information and of the hate speech” is worthy of the measure.
Prosecutor General Augusto Aras, a Bolsonaro appointee who is seen by many as an ally of the government, has applied to the Supreme Court to reverse the measures, which he considers unconstitutional. Aras said they were “censored in advance,” violating the Brazilian Constitution’s right to freedom of speech, right to notice and notification.
The Supreme Court sided with the electoral court in a hearing on Tuesday. Luis Claudio Araujo, a law professor at the University of Ibmec, said the Brazilian Constitution applies the same freedom of expression as the US Constitution.
The court also forbade paying election advertising on the internet two days before and one day after, the election.
New measures anger many people Bolsonaro’s Supporters. Others say they are justified by the scale of the online dirty war.
Misinformation is on the rise
Misinformation has become more radical – and organized – since 2018 presidential campaignwhen far-right groups were accused of spreading mass disinformation in support of Bolsonaro.
“In 2018, it was a kind of playground. That’s more honest, in the sense that they ideologically believe in what’s going on and simply create channels as a way to be part of the conversation,” said Guilherme Felitti, founder Novelo Data, which tracks more than 500 conservative YouTube channels, said.
Some of them have turned their online operations into businesses, relying on advertising revenue and contributions from their growing audiences. Some have run for office on their own this year.
Enzo Leonardo Suzin, better known by his YouTube alias Enzuh, is one of them. He launched his channels in 2015.
When Bolsonaro started his election campaign, Suzin used his own YouTube channel and created several WhatsApp groups – including what he dubbed the “mees factory” – to target opponents. be aware of Bolsonaro: mayor, governor and even de MoraesSupreme Court of Justice.
He was found guilty and fined just under 50,000 reis ($10,000) in five different defamation and libel lawsuits. He was also the target of a Supreme Court investigation into the spread of fake news online, which also including Bolsonaro and political allies.
With each legal process, Suzin gains a few more followers.
“I think YouTube is like a game,” Suzin told the Associated Press news agency. “That was my plan from the beginning: to be a provocateur, cursing about corrupt bandits, they sued me and I increased after that.”
His Facebook and Twitter accounts have been blocked – but not his YouTube channel, where he still posts every day. He lost his bid to become a state legislator this month.