Brazilian authorities are worried about the power of fake news
Brazil's Chief Electoral Justice: Fake news could lead to election annulment

Brazilian authorities are worried about the power of fake news

Since Donald Trump was elected to the White House in late 2016, and the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, the power of fake news has terrified political analysts. A new study by a group of researchers at Ohio State University concluded that fake news had a significant impact on American voters both in 2012 and in 2016 – dissuading traditionally Democrat voters from even showing up to the polls.

In Brazil, the Electoral Justice system has shown deep concerns about the power of false information online. That’s partially because, according to ComScore, Brazilians spend 25 percent of their online time on Facebook, and 49 percent of us get our news from the internet. Since 2014, social media bots have been widely used in Brazil to influence the electorate (you can read more about this here). And their presence in the 2018 election is expected to be even greater.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Over the past few months, the Superior Electoral Court has signed agreements with multiple parties and ad agencies to prevent the spread of fake news. Those agreements, however, are not binding and, besides being a public relations problem, they won&#8217;t bring many consequences for parties who go ahead and play dirty.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">That is, until recent statements by Supreme Court Justice Luiz Fux, who acts as Brazil&#8217;s Chief Electoral Justice. During a seminar in Brasilia this week, held in partnership with the European Union, Mr. Fux said that if fake news is the deciding factor in an election, then the result could be overturned. </span></p> <p><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;Fake news pollutes the democratic environment, with one candidate exposing his or her wrath against the other, instead of showcasing his or her own qualities. Votes can only be conscious if they are preceded by true information about the candidates.&#8221;</span></i></p> <h3>How Brazil will fight fake news</h3> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Brazilian electoral landscape already seems uncertain enough even before the electoral authority floating the possibility of not recognizing the official result. To avoid taking drastic measures, Mr. Fux and Electoral Courts &#8220;won&#8217;t wait for the dog to bite,&#8221; aiming to prevent fake news rather than just punishing those who spread them.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Since last year, Brazil has a consultative council to come up with regulations for internet campaigning.  So far, though, little has been done.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brazil&#8217;s Electoral Justice is set to work with the country&#8217;s intelligence agency (<a href="https://politica.estadao.com.br/noticias/eleicoes,abin-propos-monitorar-usuarios-na-rede,70002342417">Abin</a>) to, &#8220;within the limits of the Constitution,&#8221; shut down content producers who spread falsehoods with the purpose of tampering with the election. That solution, however, would create a whole new problem. In order to do so, Abin would be allowed to monitor netizens without court orders.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Members of Brazil&#8217;s Superior Electoral Court have said, with the condition of remaining anonymous, that this solution is worse than the initial problem. For one, it goes against the national internet legal framework, which protects users&#8217; metadata from being constantly monitored in the way Abin would have to do. Some also believe that it violates personal rights of privacy.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">One solution found by electoral authorities is to force internet companies such as Google and Facebook to disclose who paid for sponsoring a particular post. </span></p> <h3>What about WhatsApp?</h3> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">But while authorities may try to tame social media platforms, there&#8217;s one that seems to be far out of reach: WhatsApp Messenger, simply the <a href="https://brazilian.report/2018/04/13/whatsapp-fake-news-elections/">most popular app in Brazil</a> &#8211; and one of the country&#8217;s most used means of communication.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">There are some 120 million WhatsApp users in Brazil, making up about ten percent of all WhatsApp users in the world. Deals with phone providers have made it a more accessible mode of communication for many Brazilians, who are faced with high monthly bills from mobile phone companies. Its adoption by businesses, political campaigns and news agencies has only furthered its popularity.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">WhatsApp is trickier to tackle than Facebook or Twitter when it comes to fake news. Its end-to-end encryption means it is impossible to trace where information came from or how many people it has reached.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Authorities recognize how hard it is to prevent fake news from spreading via WhatsApp. Messages are automatically sent to groups with hundreds of contacts. Curbing that would take long and expensive investigations. Former Chief Electoral Justice Marcelo Ribeiro declared in May that &#8220;it is impossible to curb fake news on WhatsApp. Since the dawn of time, people lie.&#8221;

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PowerJun 21, 2018

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