Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right Brazilian presidential candidate who has praised dictatorship and called refugees the “scum of the world,” has been accused by his rival of helping to spread fake news.
Fernando Haddad of the center-left Worker’s Party (PT) has been recently targeted by a wave of fake news stories. On Monday for instance, the Brazilian electoral court ordered Facebook to remove 33 fake stories about Haddad’s vice presidential candidate Manuela D’Ávila. Other false allegations claim that Haddad is planning to distribute textbooks teaching children to be gay.
“The lies come from [Bolsonaro]… he will not accept any ethical commitment. He will continue to slander, insult,” Haddad said. “One had 3 million views when it was removed. We try to stop it but people watch them.” Haddad asked Bolsorano, leader of the Social Liberal Party (PSL) to take a joint pledge against spreading fake news. Bolsorano refused, which Haddad said was a “proof of dishonesty”.
In Brazil, far-right authoritarian populist Bolsonaro won the first round. Some of his recent quotes: “I’m pro-torture”; “I’m not going to rape you, because you’re very ugly” (to a female representative in Congress); or “I’d rather have my son die…than show up dating some guy.”
— Brian Klaas (@brianklaas) October 8, 2018
Bolsonaro’s far-right campaign for presidency has been run on a low budget, meaning that he has relied extensively on social media to help propel his campaign, which is not a bad strategy in Brazil, which has the joint-third highest number of Facebook users in the world.
As seen in recent elections elsewhere in the world, most recently in Sweden, the combination of a far-right candidate/political party and social media savvy (Bolsonaro has more than double Haddad’s followers on Twitter alone) has led to a massive upswing in fake news. Comprova, a media monitoring project, said that it has investigated 110 fake news stories on WhatsApp and Facebook in the last ten weeks alone, with executive editor Sergio Lüdtke telling the Guardian it was like a “tsunami.”
To make matters worse, much of the news is being spread via private WhatsApp groups, which are extremely difficult to track. But rumors are still spreading like wildfire. As Buzzfeed News noted, over the past weekend during the first round of voting, Bolsonaro supporters shared the fake story that they would be turned away from polling stations if they wore merchandise supporting the candidate. The story was one of the five most shared across 350 public groups.
The Brazilian election, which comes to a close on the 28th of October in the second-round of voting between Bolsonaro and Haddad, has been the most contentious in the nation’s 30-year democratic history, with stories repeatedly emerging about confrontations between Bolsonaro and Haddad supporters, as well as between Bolsonaro supporters and the press. On Monday, a capoeira instructor was stabbed to death after allegedly arguing with a Bolsonaro supporter.
During Brazil's election on Sunday, a female journalist in Recipe was reportedly assaulted by men who threatened to rape her. "They said when the commander wins, all the press would die," the victim recalled. https://t.co/LB7OL0npQz
— Rachel Glickhouse (@Riogringa) October 9, 2018
A major driving force for the tension has been Bolsonaro’s own far-right rhetoric and promises. A former army paratrooper, he’s praised the military dictatorship which led the country up until 1985, and previously labelled a congresswoman too ugly to rape. Bolsonaro has also promised to give Brazil’s already notoriously-deadly security forces an even freer reign to kill anyone suspected of being a criminal, open up the entirety of the Amazon for mining and logging and withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. Naturally then, this means that the financial elites in Brazil are willing to throw their support behind him.
“I don’t even want to imagine what that is going to be like [if he wins],” James N Green, the director of Brown University’s Brazil Initiative told the Guardian previously. “It would be the beginning of the end of democracy.”