Misinformation campaigns escalate during Covid-19 pandemic in Brazil

Misinformation campaigns escalate during Covid-19 pandemic in Brazil
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The spread of Covid-19 in Brazil has been closely followed by waves of misinformation about the pandemic, says Brazilian fact-checking group Agência Lupa.

Some of the most common pieces of fake news shared on social media concerned miracle cures for Covid-19 using tea and garlic, and videos denouncing “fake” funerals and empty hospital hallways as part of conspiracy theories about inflated death tolls.

According to Agência Lupa, there were at least five major waves of misinformation in Brazil, characterized by the intense circulation of false and misleading content on the same topic over a short period of time.

Between January 24 and June 30, the fact-checking company has verified and debunked 229 false rumors circulating online, of which 36 percent were directly related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Though Brazil did not record its first confirmed Covid-19 case until February 26, there were already numerous unsubstantiated claims circulating on social media concerning the origin of the virus as a political tool or whether Covid-19 even existed. Agência Lupa points out that some of the fake content in Brazil was so widely shared that it reached audiences in other countries as well.

A familiar foe

Brazilians themselves have become acquainted with the presence of fake news on social media over the past few years, with the widespread use of misleading content heavily shaping the narrative of the 2018 presidential election.

Currently, the Supreme Court is conducting a fake news probe to investigate a network of misinformation spreading aimed at attacking President Jair Bolsonaro’s political rivals ever since the 2018 election. If a link is found between the president’s campaign and the scheme organizers, this could lead to the nullification of the president’s election and prompt immediate calls for a new vote.

This week, as previously reported by The Brazilian Report, the Senate approved a fake news bill that could enhance the government’s ability to identify and punish fake news sources. However, critics say this could come at the price of users sacrificing their freedoms and privacy.

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