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By HELENA MARTINS*

Is Brazil prepared to face disinformation in elections?

Myanmar, United Kingdom, India, Australia, United States, Indonesia, Mexico. The list, far from exhaustive, shows the diversity of countries that have experienced problems associated with misinformation in elections and that, therefore, have become objects of specific policies on the part of Facebook, the corporation that also owns WhastApp and Instagram.

In September, this type of interference was once again confirmed by a former Facebook data scientist, Sophie Zhang, who produced a memo[I] in which he stated that fake profiles are harming elections. In the document, which ended up being leaked, Zhang called into question Facebook's ability to deal with misinformation, especially in non-English speaking countries, both by prioritization and the use of automated systems that have difficulties understanding these contexts.

In Brazil, misinformation has been identified as a serious problem by the authorities. Upon assuming the presidency of the TSE in May, Minister Luís Roberto Barroso revealed[ii] highlighted concern with “digital militias” and mentioned the need for platforms to collaborate in combating them, as well as support for professional journalism.

In the same vein, when he held that position in 2018, the now president of the Federal Supreme Court (STF), Minister Luiz Fux highlighted the fight against so-called fake news. At the inauguration ceremony for the presidency of the Supreme Court, he heard from the former president of the Court, Dias Toffoli, that the opening of the controversial fake news inquiry was “the most difficult decision” of his administration.[iii].

Deadlock at the TSE regarding misinformation in the Bolsonaro campaign

It turns out that there is an abyss between recognition and the adoption of effective measures. Proof of this is the perpetuation, since 2018, of processes that refer to the ticket campaign of Jair Bolsonaro and Hamilton Mourão. There are lawsuits in the TSE asking for its cancellation for possible illegalities in carrying out mass shootings via WhatsApp and also for fraudulent use of the name and CPF of elderly people to register cell phone chips.

Despite having generated discussions about the validity of the result and fostered the installation of a Joint Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry, the so-called CPMI of fake news, Justice has not been swift. A year ago WhatsApp came to recognize massive sending of messages, but the actions are still in the process of collecting evidence[iv]. Minister Alexandre de Moraes's decision on the sharing of evidence collected in the investigation is also expected.

The legal arguments are plentiful: abuse of economic power, misuse of digital media, use of robots in electoral campaigns, ideological falsehood for electoral propaganda and irregular purchase of user registrations. There is, however, no prediction of judgment.

The lawsuits worry Bolsonaro

In his “live” on September 24, alongside Environment Minister Ricardo Salles and after criticizing the lies in his speech at the UN, Bolsonaro showed a montage that circulated on the internet with his image and ironically argued to his audience that, while this type of content is freedom of expression, “if it were the opposite, it would be fake news, liable to revoke your mandate, imprisonment, etc.”. The president added that “there is a process at the TSE to revoke my ticket as if I had been elected by fake news".

Without proper judgment, little can change.

The judgment of the actions would have been fundamental both for having answers about what actually happened in the 2018 elections and for there to be more mechanisms to protect society from the misuse of the internet. It is essential to consolidate the legal understanding of issues that will be faced by the regional electoral courts in these elections.

Measures such as the one that has allowed, since 2018, the promotion of internet content, make it possible, upon payment, to expand the reach of posts on networks and the prioritization of content to facilitate its availability through search applications on the network.

Such mechanisms end up widening the inequality between who can and who cannot pay for them. In addition, it is through boosting that public segmentation is carried out, one of the tactics used in disinformation campaigns and which compromises the transparency of public debate, as many posts are visible only to the target audience, contributing to the creation of bubbles. , reinforcement of worldviews and little (or no) exposure to the contradictory.

However, instead of reviewing these rules, we see the expansion and professionalization of marketing companies and platforms to offer “solutions” based on data, segmentation, content recommendation. Which deepens distances and undermines public debate.

Digital marketing and candidate accountability

On Google's 2020 Elections Portal[v], are presented as “good campaign practices”: ad on Google search, it being possible to choose keywords related to the campaign to facilitate the offer to people who search for similar topics on the site. Google concentrates more than 90% of searches in the world. They also suggest the inclusion of advertising on YouTube, segmented by target audience, keywords, topics, channels, demographic profile and content. And the use of “display”, a type of advertisement that is displayed while browsing other websites.

The use of data to obtain information and to produce and send segmented content has become the business' flagship. On Google's website, it is stated that "Data Trends can provide a powerful lens into what users are curious about and how people around the world react to important events."

While issues of a more structuring nature of the platforms' business models and disinformation campaigns remain pending judgment, the legislation incorporated devices that penalize users, such as the one that provides for a sentence of two to eight years in prison for those who, demonstrably aware of their innocence of a candidate, spreading false news about him during the elections. The parties were also compromised.

In this sense, TSE Resolution nº 23.610/2019 extended to the candidate the responsibility for all content that is published in his favor, including by third parties. It is presumed that he, his party or his coalition have been aware of the content and agreed with the disclosure. This may also make you liable for spreading false, out-of-context or libelous content. For this dialogue with parties, the TSE has maintained, since August 2019, the Program to Combat Disinformation with a Focus on the 2020 Elections, which also involves press associations and other groups. The TSE also launched the “#Euvotosemfake” campaign.

As for the platforms, in recent weeks the TSE celebrated a partnership with WhatsApp, which announced that it would create a chatbot for complaints and stickers about conscientious voting.[vi]. To activate the chat, to talk to the assistant and stay well informed about health care, tips for voters, process rules, verified news and data from the Electoral Court, the user has to add the number 06196371078 and get in touch[vii], which can also be done via the link wa.me/556196371078. No direct notification has been made to users so far, so they will also have to be made aware of the mechanism. According to the TSE, cooperation with WhatsApp also provides for the creation of a form to report accounts suspected of carrying out mass shootings, conduct prohibited by the electoral law and also by the application's Terms of Service.

To expand access, the TSE formalized an agreement with Conexis Brasil Digital, which represents telecommunications operators, on the 29th, to ensure that users can access content on the Electoral Justice website without spending their data package between September and November. These measures are important, but absolutely incapable of confronting the disinformation production machine.

General Law on Protection of Personal Data

The novelty that may have the greatest impact, from a legislative point of view, is that in September of this year the General Law for the Protection of Personal Data (LGPD) came into force. The law was already referred to in the TSE resolution on advertising, which mentions that it can be done via email to addresses registered free of charge by the candidate, political party or coalition, subject to the provisions of the LGPD regarding the consent of the holder. But its validity inaugurates a new period of affirmation of data protection as a right. Following the rule, quite common practices such as meeting contacts and shooting advertisements are prohibited.

Doubts remain, however, as to the ability of institutions to quickly internalize the provisions of the law and develop a proactive stance in monitoring internet advertising. In the pre-campaign, data use cases, boosting by supporter profiles and misinformation have already surfaced.

Will the authorities be prepared, in the thousands of Brazilian municipalities, to effectively face disinformation? As seen in the last two years, the answer does not tend to be encouraging, not least because we are talking about a more capillarized election and more diverse and dispersed courts.

* Helena Martins is a journalist and professor at the Federal University of Ceará (UFC).

Originally published on 2020 Election Observatory of the Institute of Democracy and Democratization of Communication (INCT/IDDC).

 

Notes


[I]     https://www.uol.com.br/tilt/noticias/bbc/2020/09/16/tenho-sangue-nas-maos-a-ex-funcionaria-do-facebook-que-denuncia-responsabilidade-da-rede-em-campanhas-de-manipulacao.htm

[ii]    https://noticias.uol.com.br/politica/ultimas-noticias/2020/05/25/barroso-assume-tse-e-cobra-atencao-a-milicias-digitais-nas-eleicoes.htm

[iii]    https://agenciabrasil.ebc.com.br/justica/noticia/2020-09/abrir-inquerito-das-fake-news-foi-decisao-mais-dificil-diz-toffoli

[iv]    https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/poder/2020/06/entenda-uma-a-uma-as-acusacoes-contra-a-chapa-bolsonaro-mourao-no-tse.shtml

[v]    https://sites.google.com/view/site-eleicoes-2020/home?authuser=1

[vi]    https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/poder/2020/09/acordo-entre-whatsapp-e-tse-vai-prever-chat-de-denuncias-e-figurinhas-sobre-voto-consciente.shtml?utm_source=newsletter&origin=folha

[vii]http://www.tse.jus.br/imprensa/noticias-tse/2020/Setembro/conheca-o-2018tira-duvidas-no-whatsapp2019-assistente-virtual-da-justica-eleitoral

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