Thousands rally against leading, far-right Brazil candidate

Katie Ramirez
October 22, 2018

Bolsonaro won the first round of voting October 7 and opinion polls put him ahead of the leftist Workers' Party candidate, Fernando Haddad, in the October 28 ballot.

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. While platforms like Facebook and Twitter are easier to police, WhatsApp users exchange information directly over an encrypted network.

Numerous fakes portray Haddad as a communist whose Workers' Party would turn Brazil into another Cuba, convert children to homosexuality and rig voting machines.

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.

WhatsApp has tried to discourage the tsunami of falsehoods by limiting how many recipients a message can be forwarded to.

For its part, a movement called United Women against Bolsonaro said that they are united 'because a candidate for the presidency of the country, with a discourse based on hatred, intolerance, authoritarianism and backwardness, threatens our conquests and our already hard existence'.

Haddad accuses Bolsonaro of not just benefiting from misinformation on WhatsApp but encouraging supporters to fund bulk messaging over the platform. That, they allege, amounts to illegally soliciting undeclared campaign contributions. His leftist Workers' Party claims it has witnesses saying Bolsonaro had asked business leaders for cash to pay for the bulk messaging.

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Bolsonaro has denied any knowledge of such a scheme and called on any supporters doing so to stop.

A WhatsApp representative said it had "banned hundreds of thousands of accounts during the Brazilian election period".

"We are also taking immediate legal measures to prevent companies from sending mass messages via WhatsApp and have already banned accounts associated with those companies".

Haddad's allies argue that the scandal should invalidate the election. Jair Bolsonaro turned out to be the front-runner, receiving 46.03 percent of the votes while his rival Fernando Haddad got 29.28 percent of the ballots.

Brazilian lawmakers and judges have tried repeatedly in recent years to encroach on the privacy offered by WhatsApp, creating headaches for Facebook executives who are often called to account.

Brazil's top electoral court had been expected to hold a press conference on false news and electoral crimes, but it was postponed until Sunday.

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