Brazil’s trailing Workers Party candidate Fernando Haddad has accused the right-wing Jair Bolsonaro of organizing an illegal multi-million-dollar defamation campaign via WhatsApp ahead of next week’s runoff presidential polls.
“We have identified a campaign of slander and defamation via WhatsApp and, given the mass of messages, we know that there was dirty money behind it, because it wasn’t registered with the Supreme Electoral Tribunal,” Haddad told a media conference in Sao Paulo, after Folha de S.Paulo newspaper uncovered a suspected election fraud.
In its report, the Brazilian publication alleged that a group of entrepreneurs have backed a campaign to use the popular messaging app to reach out to Haddad supporters and bombard them with fake news in an effort to coerce their votes. The publication claims that it discovered contracts worth up to $3.2 million (BRL 12 Million) each for companies to spam the virtual space with false information. Quickmobile, Yacows, Crock Services, and SMS Market are just some of the entities listed in the report that allegedly have been hired by Bolsonaro’s camp to generate numbers that would later be used to send hundreds of millions of WhatsApp messages.
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
Such a practice is illegal under Brazilian law and has forced Haddad’s Workers’ Party (PT) to file an official complaint with the Superior Electoral Court (TSE). “We have information that 156 entrepreneurs are involved in this. People will be called to testify,” Haddad tweeted, accusing his rival of “electoral crime to gain an advantage.”
O que queremos é a apuração dos crimes denunciados. O montante de recursos e o número de empresários envolvidos nesse complô é muito grande. Temos a informação de que 156 empresários estão envolvidos nisso. As pessoas vão ser chamadas a depor. Ele deixou rastro e nós vamos atrás.
— Fernando Haddad 13 (@Haddad_Fernando) October 18, 2018
Haddad also demanded that Bolsonaro be eliminated and that the second round of election be contested between him and Ciro Gomes (PDT), who came in third with 12.5 percent of the vote in the first round.
Bolsonaro, who – after barely missing the required majority in the first round – is currently leading with 59 percent of voter support versus 41 percent for his rival, has deflected the allegations made against him and the Social Liberal Party (PSL) using multiple outlets.
“The PT is not being harmed by fake news, but by TRUTH,” he wrote on Twitter, accusing the PT of stealing money from the population and plunging the country into violence and chaos. Earlier, the right-wing presidential candidate tweeted that his camp only receives“voluntary support.”
Apoio voluntário é algo que o PT desconhece e não aceita. Sempre fizeram política comprando consciências. Um dos ex-filiados de seu partido de apoio, o PSOL, tentou nos assassinar. Somos a ameaça aos maiores corruptos da história do Brasil. Juntos resgataremos nosso país!
— Jair Bolsonaro 1️⃣7️⃣ (@jairbolsonaro) October 18, 2018
“I can’t control it if an entrepreneur who is friendly to me is doing this. I know it’s against the law. But I can’t control it, I have no way of knowing about it and taking measures [to stop it],” Bolsonaro told O Antagonista website.
In the picture below, Bolsonaro’s son getting ‘some advice’ from an American friend about the role of fake news in elections, a couple of weeks ago pic.twitter.com/BgLEyKEdqn
— sergio bretas (@serbretas) October 18, 2018
Later in the day, the 63-year old Congressman campaigning for anti-corruption used Facebook Live to once again deny the campaign fraud allegations, claiming he never solicited any financial contributions.
Amid the electoral scandal, the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) asked the TSE to temporarily restrict WhatsApp messaging for 120 million user accounts in Brazil, in order to combat the spread of ‘fake news.’
WhatsApp, meanwhile, told Reuters that they are looking into the allegations. “WhatsApp has proactively banned hundreds of thousands of accounts during the Brazilian election period.”
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