Published: Mon, October 22, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Brazil's Bolsonaro says he intends to use armed forces to fight violence

Brazil's Bolsonaro says he intends to use armed forces to fight violence

One of Brazil's top newspapers on Thursday claimed Brazilian entrepreneurs were bankrolling a multimillion-dollar campaign created to boost Jair Bolsonaro by inundating WhatsApp users with messages undermining his leftist rival Fernando Haddad.

Meanwhile, the head of Bolsonaro's PSL party, Gustavo Bebianno, said he did not know the businessmen suspected of making donations.

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in Brazil to protest against far-right presidential front-runner Jair Bolsonaro.

Messaging platform WhatsApp, which is owned by social media giant Facebook, has played an outsized political role in this year's presidential election.

On Thursday, newspaper Folha de S.Paulo reported Bolsonaro supporters had paid digital marketing firms up to 12 million reais ($3.26 million) each to spread tens of thousands of attack ads. However, the investigation is unlikely to derail Bolsonaro's campaign with just a week to go before the vote and an 18 percentage-point lead over Haddad in recent opinion polls.

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Haddad called for Bolsonaro to be barred from the presidential race for what he called a criminal "defamation campaign" of fake news and lies. His leftist Workers' Party claims it has witnesses saying Bolsonaro had asked business leaders for cash to pay for the bulk messaging. That would amount to soliciting illegal campaign contributions in what they call an "abuse of economic power" undermining the election.

While fake news is a concern on many social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, WhatsApp is more hard to police because users exchange information directly and rumours there can gain added credibility since they're shared privately by friends. However, it has come under increasing scrutiny in the country as the main medium for disseminating fake news.

WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption allows groups of hundreds of users to exchange texts, photos and video beyond the purview of electoral authorities, independent fact checkers or even the platform itself.

Reacting to the report, WhatsApp announced Friday that it was taking "immediate legal action to stop companies from sending bulk messages". One of those accounts belongs to Bolsonaro's son, although the ban has since been lifted.

WhatsApp confirmed that it had blocked Flavio Bolsonaro's account for "spam behaviour" in recent days, for reasons unrelated to the Folha report.

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