Event of the year
2018 may have been the year of the World Cup, but for Brazilians, the event that will be far more wide-reaching is the upcoming presidential elections. In October, more than 140 million voters will not only decide who will be the president of Brazil for the next four years, but also governors, senators and state and federal deputies.
For the first time in the history of the country, traditional media outlets (television, radio, newspapers and magazines) no longer hold power over political discussion in Brazilian society. Social media has been and will continue to be key in shaping opinion.
The power of social media in Brazil
With its great potential to encourage public debate, allowing the direct participation of voters, social media has also the potential to generate political polarization. This is mainly due to the way in which we access information and news through social platforms. Algorithms connect us with the content that most interests us and to people who have beliefs and opinions similar to ours, dividing society into contradictory points of view. This system also reinforces the phenomenon of post-truth, in which hard facts are losing importance in the political debate. People want to read something that reaffirms their point of view, whether it be falsehood or truth.
Amid the growing worldwide debate over the spread of fake news and its consequences to democracy, Brazil’s electoral court is in constant discussion with the press and major social media companies on how to tackle the problem that has also affected other countries such as the case of the United States elections, and the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom.
Fake news influence and how to combat it
On the one hand, the president of the Supreme Electoral Court, minister Luiz Fux, has already stated that the election may be cancelled if the result has been influenced by fake news. For the minister, the propagation of fake news “destroys candidacies and attacks democracy”.
On the other hand, Facebook launched its news verification program in Brazil earlier this year, in partnership with the checking platforms Aos Fatos and Agência Lupa. Both companies are made up of groups of independent journalists and have been chosen because they are part of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN). After the United States, Brazil will also be the second country to adopt the Facebook tool that identifies political content ads. The registration process for the candidates, parties and coalitions that will take part in the elections began on Thursday 16th. From now on, there will be an indication that any political ad in the news feed is “Electoral Propaganda”, accompanied by the ID number of the advertiser.
One of the most popular platforms used by Brazilians, WhatsApp also decided to limit the forwarding of messages to 20 groups at a time, as a way to reduce the possibility of proliferation of fake news. The focus of Twitter will be checking and combating what the company calls “malicious automated accounts and/or that disseminate spam”, fake profiles or bots.
The debate on how to combat fake news is far from over and is not just a Brazilian problem – several countries are discussing updating their laws on the subject. The only certainty is that the Internet and social media have transformed the exercise of democracy and citizenship itself. There is no way back. Now, the question remains: how can we order this mess of information and educate a society towards progress?
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