Observing the scene in Brazil in 2022, you would think we’re in an 18th century fairy tale – a particularly grim one. Ahead of the October general elections, Brazil is riven in two. Confusing matters is the whirl of crazy, misleading, often fake, and frequently malicious stories that serve to construct a narrative of heroes and villains.
And President Jair Bolsonaro, who has declared himself “God’s chosen one” – a fantastical statement if there ever was one – has benefited by far the most from these portrayals. Since his fake-news-fuelled 2018 campaign, the far-right former captain has opened the floodgates of disinformation, as well as attacking the press, and painting a picture of a country that exists only in his and his supporters’ minds. He once declared that “fake news is part of our lives” and has also seen his Instagram posts deleted for spreading false information.
With Brazil’s politics so deeply enmeshed with social media narratives as to turn the country into a hideous real-life version of Pinocchio’s story, institutions are on the alert. They worry that Bolsonaro’s 2018 campaign tactics could be put into practice once again. So this year, judicial institutions such as the Supreme and Electoral Courts have been trying to quash deceitful communications. Now, a debate is underway about the so-called “Fake News bill,” which seeks to put an end to this never-ending cycle of misinformation.
But preventing Pinocchio’s nose from growing won’t be easy. Bolsonaro’s inner circle have been calling the bill “communist,” while the measure faces resistance from big tech companies. Moreover, an eventual fake news law would not necessarily curb the problem. The six-month road from now until the elections promises to be a bumpy ride. And when we finally arrive, a happy ending is far from guaranteed.