Brazil Disinformation Profile

From ADTAC Disinformation Inventory

Media Environment

According to the World Bank 70% of people in Brazil actively use the internet.[1] Brazil is ranked 107 out of 180 countries in the world press freedom index in 2020.[2] Media ownership is heavily conglomerated and many individuals with political connections own media outlets.[3]

WhatsApp In Brazil

Approximately 98 percent of smartphone owners surveyed in Brazil in January 2021 said they had WhatsApp installed on their mobile devices.[4] WhatsApp has been utilized by many actors who spread disinformation in Brazil, as WhatsApp’s encryption feature, lack of search functions and absence of a public application programming interface (API) made it difficult for researchers and others to gather metrics and information to measure the extent of messages shared.

The app initially allowed users to rapidly forward messages to large numbers of people, which allowed the swift spread of misinformation and disinformation. Such campaigns were granted enormous reach with each user able to create up to 9,999 groups, each containing up to 256 people, and with the ability to forward a message to up to 20 contacts at a time. These messages often focus on themes of antagonism against the media, election fraud, and doctored imagery.[5]

The 2014 Presidential Election

Both candidates Dilma Rouseff and Aécio Neves were supported by bot networks according to research done at the Federal University of Espirito Santo. The bot activity spiked especially during debates. The Neves campaign had hired out a businessman who started the campaign, the Rouseff campaign also used bots but not nearly at the same amount.[6]

The 2016 Municipal Election

During this election campaigns utilized the "donate one like feature" where supporters would give their ID and password and their account would follow automated tasks that would support the campaign. A campaign consultant argued that this tactic was decisive in certain races.[7]

2018 Presidential Election

During the run-up to Brazil’s 2018 presidential election, the public witnessing the mass creation of fringe websites that posed as legitimate news outlets. These fringe websites often relayed various falsehoods, creating public distrust in traditional news outlets and boosting the appeal of their preferred candidates.[8]

Bolsonaro, especially, benefited from and amplified the various faux news outlets and their attempts to label traditional news outlets as “fake news.”[9] The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab found that this strategy worked, as partisan websites outperformed traditional independent media in the corruption debate in the six months that preceded the electoral campaign.[10]

Bolsonaro and COVID-19

Bolsonaro has been titled the "leader of coronavirus-denial movement".[11] Early in the pandemic cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro introduced quarantine measures and the country seemed well prepared. However Bolsonaro worked to undermine Brazil's health authorities and downplay the danger of COVID-19 calling it a "little flu".[12][13] Bolsonaro actively put the economy before public health in his "Brazil can't stop" campaign and he questioned quarantine measures.[14] Bolsonaro also touted chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine as cures for COVID-19 although there was no evidence for this assertion.[15]

The Comissão Parlamentar Mista de Inquérito - CPMI commission created by the National Congress has been investigating disinformation in Brazil since 2019. They've found that COVID-19 disinformation has three major strands in Brazil the first is pseudo-scientific information about symptoms, risks and cures, the next strand alleges that prevention and control measures adopted by other countries have been "catastrophic", and the last criticizes political figures who support social isolation.[16]