As the Inquisitr previously reported, far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro is heading toward victory in Brazil. Bolsonaro obtained 46.7 percent of the votes in the first round vote, while leftist Fernando Haddad got only 28.37 percent.
While some have compared Bolsonaro’s impending election upset to now-U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 ascendance, Bolsonaro is thought to be much further to the right of Trump. Bolsonaro is, in fact, a proponent of military dictatorship, fond of torture and the death penalty, and known for often making wildly racist, homophobic, sexist comments.
Much like other far-right populists, Bolsonaro is known for using fake news to amplify his violent rhetoric. But instead of using now-conventional means of spreading falsehoods, like social media platforms Facebook, and Twitter, Bolsonaro has turned to another Zuckerberg-owned platform, the instant messaging mobile application WhatsApp.
A group of Brazilian entrepreneurs is bankrolling Bolsonaro’s disinformation campaign, The Guardian reports.
“The practice is illegal since it constitutes undeclared campaign donations by companies, something outlawed by electoral legislation,” Brazilian media observed.
Bolsonaro’s opponent, Fernando Haddad, accused the far-right candidate of electoral fraud, adding that 156 Brazilian businesses bankrolled Bolsonaro’s WhatsApp disinformation campaign.
“The business people who have become involved in this will have to pay judicially – and we already know about several who have taken part,” Haddad said.
Bolsonaro’s campaign, and Jair Bolsonaro himself, dismissed the allegations, calling them fake news.
“I can’t control it if an entrepreneur who is friendly to me is doing this. I know it’s against the law,” Bolsonaro told local media.
In a brief statement supplied to Reuters, a representative for WhatsApp said that the report of electoral fraud in Brazil’s presidential elections is being taken seriously, adding that WhatsApp has banned “hundreds of thousands of accounts” since the beginning of the election.
Glenn Greenwald, a Pulitzer-prize winning American journalist who resides in Brazil, noted on Twitter that Bolsonaro — unlike his Western counterparts — has managed to weaponize WhatsApp.
While the west obseses on the spread of disinformation via Facebook and Twitter posts, Brazil is showing that WhatsApp - which is huge in Brazil but lots of other places - can be way more powerful, as it seems to be personal messages from friends & is distributed by the millions.— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) October 18, 2018
According to data published by Buzzfeed, about 40 percent of Brazilians use WhatsApp. Since WhatsApp messages are encrypted, it is impossible to monitor the platform or assess the scope of Bolsonaro’s fake news campaign.
In Brazil, WhatsApp is also a popular news source, since 60 percent of voters read most of their news on the platform, according to research. Bolsonaro, Buzzfeed notes, plans on further weaponizing WhatsApp after the election, and wants to prevent the country’s judges from suspending WhatsApp service.
Bolsonaro business backers accused of illegal Whatsapp fake news campaign https://t.co/LT9cCKkc6w— The Guardian (@guardian) October 18, 2018
Since not even WhatsApp can read the encrypted messages, it remains unclear what the company could do to stop abuse on the instant messaging platform.