Researchers from the Federal University of São Carlos and the University of São Paulo have developed a tool to identify fake news which can be used on the web or WhatsApp. The project is called Fake News Detector and was financed by the National Council of Technological and Scientific Development (CNPq). It has a 90 percent accuracy in detecting false information, according to creators. Opinion articles, for instance, may be incorrectly flagged as fake news.

To create the tool, researchers used data from 3,600 fake articles and 3,600 genuine ones. A code learned to identify the main characteristics and patterns of each group. This analysis showed that fake news tends to have more spelling errors, shorter sentences, a more diverse vocabulary, and intense use of nouns, pronouns, and adverbs. And, of course, falsehoods rely heavily on adjectives.

From that information, the detector makes its diagnosis over whether the news can be trusted, or if it is fraudulent. Among the preferred subjects of fake news are politics (58 percent), TV and celebrities (21.4 percent) and society and everyday life (17.7 percent).

The Fake News Detector is still a prototype, and researchers will increase the database used to make diagnoses more precise. They also intend to make it automatic, capable of analyzing a piece of text and comparing it to reliable sources of information.

Unfortunately, this might be a case of too little, too late. Propaganda spread by way of social media has heavily influenced the 2018 elections in Brazil – and, in many cases, these messages constitute fake news. Estimates say 120 million Brazilians can be reached on their cellphones, a data that explains the revelations made by newspaper Folha de S.Paulo that businesspeople are illegally spending millions to send pro-Bolsonaro messages en masse via WhatsApp.

Pieces of fake news that influenced the 2018 election

Fake news was, indubitably, one of the main political forces in 2018. According to Tai Nalon, director of the fact-checking agency Aos Fatos, five falsehoods were among the most important messages spread on social media in influencing the outcome of the electoral race so far.

In first place is the so-called “Gay Kit.” For several years, anti-Workers’ Party groups have been spreading that Fernando Haddad, during his time as Minister of Education, had authorized the distribution of a series of materials to public schools that encouraged children to be gay.

The truth is that Mr. Haddad had created a project to combat homophobia in public schools, but it was never implemented. That didn’t stop fake news factories from spreading false images of supposed books, pamphlets and other materials related to the false “Gay Kit.” The Superior Electoral Court ordered that Mr. Bolsonaro and his allies take down any material accusing Mr. Haddad of having implemented the fake kit.

Next comes a doctored image of the man that stabbed Mr. Bolsonaro in September, placing him alongside former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Right after the attack, the fake news network commanded by Bolsonaro said that Adélio Bispo de Oliveira was affiliated with the Workers’ Party. Of course, another lie.

Another falsehood used images to mislead voters. This time, though, a photo of actress Beatriz Segall with a swollen face was posted saying that Worker’s Party militants had badly beaten a female Bolsonaro supporter. The picture actually showed Mrs. Segall after she fell on the street in an unrelated incident – which had nothing to do with politics.

Olavo de Carvalho, a far-right internet personality and self-proclaimed philosophy teacher, claimed that a book written by Fernando Haddad defended incest. Another lie. The book indeed exists, but it is an essay about Karl Marx’s “Communist Manifesto”. Carvalho later erased the Facebook post, but the damage was already done.

Lastly, another controversial idea attributed to Fernando Haddad has been the subject of fake news. The post claims that the center-left candidate is the author of a bill that legalizes pedophilia. Such a bill did actually exist, but it has nothing to do with Mr. Haddad. Its author is José Sarney Filho, a senator from the Brazilian Democratic Movement party; the proposal lowers the age of sexual consent from 14 to 12 years old and has never been put to a vote in either house of Congress.

PowerOct 20, 2018

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BY Diogo Rodriguez

Rodriguez is a social scientist and journalist based in São Paulo.