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By SERGIO AMADEU DA SILVEIRA*

Considerations about whatsapp business and misinformation

On October 4th, a blackout shook the planet. It affected several economic relationships, harmed service providers and several companies stopped selling their products. Concerned family members were left without the latest news from their children and relatives. The event made headlines in newspapers on all continents. An error in the configurations of the internal routers that connect the data centers of Zuckerberg's companies left Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp disconnected from the internet for approximately 7 hours.

More than the blackout, I find the degree of intermediation that Facebook companies have achieved in everyday interactions in our society extremely worrying. Leaks of internal Facebook documents published by The Wall Street Journal show that Zuckerberg's company conducts research without the consent of its users, privileges profit over information security, prefers toxic spectacularization to the protection of teenagers, encourages exaggeration and gave free conduct to personalities like Donald Trump while blocking and reducing content from others . Managed by opaque algorithmic systems, the Facebook platform and its companies act in a way that is detrimental to democracy. Act autocratically.

Here I want to deal more accurately with the relationship between misinformation and the most used instant messaging application in the country. Certainly until March 2021 and probably until now, many companies use WhatsApp Business to share files of different formats with its employees and also to carry out promotions and distribute advertising to its customers. Depending on the level of use that the company occupies in the hierarchy of the WhatsApp Business she could send 1000 messages a day to her customers using a bulk message trigger such as a broadcast list. Depending on the frequency of use of the company's broadcast lists, the WhatsApp Business will allow her to expand her possibility of mass shooting. The layer following the initial one guarantees firings of 10.000 messages per day and the subsequent one reaches 100 thousand.

There are three very serious problems that this situation can generate. First, businessmen linked to denialism and misinformation can use their WhatsApp Business to distribute misleading messages, non-existent facts, decontextualized from this device that should be for commercial use only. Second, any member of the digital militias or anyone hired by the “Gabinete do Ódio” can buy a chip and convert their personal account into a WhatsApp Business. CNPJ or confirmation that it is a company or a declaration that the account of the WhatsApp Business will not be used for political purposes. Third, any member of Steve Bannon's scheme will be able to create multiple accounts on WhatsApp Business abroad and carry out shots to numbers of supposed “clients” in Brazil.

Although the WhatsApp clearly states that it does not support mass firing schemes, it does allow such firing in the WhatsApp Business and it also does not prevent a number of companies from exploiting its programming interfaces to do so. Some of these companies imply on their websites that they have partnerships with Zuckerberg's company's instant messaging platform. Here are some examples.

Enjay uses the API of WhatsApp to allow the sending of messages in accordance with the terms and conditions of use of the messenger. However, the Enjay customer can assemble a gigantic register of numbers, segment it and send political and uninformative messages. Just read the guidelines on the company's website to notice that mass distribution of disinformational content is relatively easy. Company link: https://www.enjayworld.com/free-bulk-whatsapp-sender/

O Wasender is a platform that guarantees the massive distribution of personalized messages using phone numbers in a spreadsheet Excel, images with caption, automatic response, download of contacts, among other possibilities. Upon entering the Wasender website, you are welcomed with the slogan “Run WhatsApp Web on Steroids“. Link: https://wasender.com/

The Indian company called Trueline Solutions guarantees various services via WhatsApp, including mass shooting. It allows customization of content and says it has no limit to reach customers. Trueline has written on its website: “Here, the user can find other various tools to verify and filter mobile numbers. Groups Contacts Grabber tool allows extracting all contacts from WhatsApp groups” (In Portuguese: “Here, the user can find several other tools to verify and filter cell phone numbers. The Groups Contacts Grabber tool allows you to extract all contacts from WhatsApp groups”). Link: https://www.truelinesolution.com/bulk-whatsapp-marketing-software

There are numerous other companies that sell devices, plugins e software to extract numbers from WhatsApp with the aim of performing massive, segmented and micro-segmented shots. Despite the commercial emphasis and the provision of services, it is clear that the extreme right-wing scheme uses it to make its disinformation strategy viable. In this sense, democracy defense institutions need to act on this instant messaging client that allows reaching thousands of people who can naively or consciously reproduce disinformation content. In a transnational network, note that most of the massive shots can come from outside the country.

To try to avoid this process or allow it to be minimized I propose: (1) That it be prohibited to distribute political messages through the WhatsApp Business in the election year. Failure to comply with this prohibition should result in sanctions. (2) that the WhatsApp Business require from the companies that use it a conscious and unequivocal statement (obviously online) that the commercial application must not be used for political purposes, nor to distribute disinformation. (3) All sales of software, plugins and applications that allow massive shots in the WhatsApp. The platform WhatsApp should have 6 months to create an automated solution that prevents this mass distribution (except those within the WhatsApp Business which should prohibit its political use). (4) Search engines (mainly Google) and other media should be prohibited from serving ads selling software, plugins, any devices that promise massive shots in the WhatsApp, except inside the WhatsApp Business. (5) What counts for the WhatsApp must be valid for Telegram and any instant messaging client.

Obviously, Bolsonarism will say that preventing the use of WhatsApp Business for politics is a violation of freedom of expression. It so happens that we can only accept massive shots in unopened ducts if it is for the sale of products and services. We cannot accept the freedom to deceive and misinform, much less facilitate and protect those who wanted to disqualify the democratic debate. Furthermore, democracy does not coexist well with opacity and the obscure. Finally, democracy should not be confused with a plutocracy. Capital cannot be used unlimitedly in electoral disputes. It is necessary to curb economic power, especially when it wants to act with all its strength, but without being seen.

*Sergio Amadeu da Silveira is a professor at the Federal University of ABC. Author, among other books, of Free software – the fight for the freedom of knowledge (Conrad).

 

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