WhatsApp Becomes the Frontline Battleground for Brazil Elections

Mindy Sparks
October 22, 2018

WhatsApp is among the most preferred messaging and social media apps in Brazil, which is home to roughly 120 million users.

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.

The plea was made a day after Haddad accused Bolsonaro of being behind a "defamatory" WhatsApp campaign trafficking lies against him, following a press report that companies had been hired to bulk message voters with attacks on the Workers Party.

Also on Friday Brazil's Labor Democratic Party filed a request to the country's top electoral court to cancel the results of the first round of voting on Oct.7. Digital marketing firms had apparently taken advantage of that opacity to circulate unregistered political propaganda, according to the Folha report.

WhatsApp said it takes the allegations seriously and is "taking immediate legal action to stop companies from sending bulk messages", including cease-and-desist letters to the companies in question.

"We have cutting-edge technology to detect spam that identifies accounts with abnormal behaviour so that they can't be used to spread spam or misinformation", a WhatsApp spokesperson wrote in an email.

Bolsonaro's rival, Fernando Haddad, said that, if true, the scheme would amount to illegal campaign practices and asked Brazil's electoral court to investigate.

The latest twist in an increasingly dramatic race for the presidency - during which Bolsonaro suffered a near-fatal campaign trail stabbing - came on Friday when his son Flavio said he had been banished from WhatsApp. "The persecution knows no limits!" 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 rumors there can gain added credibility since they're shared privately by friends.

In a second tweet Bolsonaro confirmed his account had been blocked but then reactivated "without a clear explanation for this censorship". Bolsonaro supporters were more likely to follow political news on the platform with 61 percent saying they did so, compared to 38 percent of Haddad voters.

It is unclear what effect, if any, the accusations will have on opinion polls.

Bolsonaro has run as an anti-establishment candidate despite representing Rio de Janeiro state as a federal congressman for almost three decades. Haddad said his party had witnesses who heard Bolsonaro encouraging business leaders to fund the efforts.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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