Vastavam web: Facebook Inc’s WhatsApp messaging service became the frontline in Brazil’s bitter presidential campaign on Friday, as front-runner Jair Bolsonaro angrily denied accusations he had encouraged widespread misinformation campaigns on the platform. On Thursday, newspaper Folha de S.Paulo had reported that supporters of the far-right candidate had funded mass messaging attacks against leftist rival Fernando Haddad.
Haddad and his allies have urged an investigation and threatened a flurry of legal action, as the race that lawmaker Bolsonaro is expected to win by a landslide on Oct. 28 reaches its final stretch. Later on Friday, Brazil’s top electoral court TSE approved opening a probe into the case. The messaging app allows groups of hundreds of users to exchange encrypted texts, photos and video out of the view of authorities or independent fact checkers, enabling the rapid spread of misinformation with no way to track its source or full reach. Digital marketing firms had apparently taken advantage of that opacity to circulate unregistered political propaganda, according to the Folha report.
The day before, WhatsApp said it had banned hundreds of thousands of accounts during the election period, with spam detection technology spotting accounts engaged in automated ‘bot’ behaviour. The leading presidential candidate’s son, Senator-elect Flavio Bolsonaro, revealed he had been blocked from using the service, demanding an explanation from the company. “There is no limit to the persecution!” Flavio Bolsonaro wrote on Twitter, adding that the ban had 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.