Social media plays a bigger role in Brazil’s Presidential elections

World Today

Brazil goes to the polls on  Sunday to elect its next President. The polls say Jair Bolsonaro, on the political right, is poised to win over left-leaning Fernando Haddad. It’s Brazil’s first election in which social media is a major part of the political fight.

CGTN’s Lucrecia Franco reports from Rio.

No televised debates or campaign speeches for this election, but rather, it has relied on social media. It has actually been Brazilian Presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro’s sole means of campaigning since being stabbed in September.

“If this gang wants to stay here, it has to submit to our laws: either you leave, or you go to prison,” Bolsonaro said. “These red criminals will be banished from our homeland.”

That message broadcast as tens of thousands of Bolsonaro supporters gathered at campaign-closing rallies across the country. The latest polls show the candidate, known for his sexist, homophobic and racist comments, has increased his lead.

But left-leaning candidate Haddad and his supporters have fired back and said Bolsonaro has not only used social media to spread lies, but also to spread fear and sow the seeds of violence.”This is a person who supports dictatorship,” Haddad said, “who defends torture and threatens not only his opponents, but also the judicial system and the free press.”

Citing a local newspaper investigation, Haddad alleged that a dark money campaign from wealthy businessmen had pumped millions of dollars in illegal contributions to spread fake news and memes via social media.

And just as it was in the 2016 United States Presidential Election, right at the center of it all: Facebook and its subsidiary WhatsApp.

Facebook recently removed 68 pages and 43 accounts associated with one marketing group. Fact-checkers have also found that WhatsApp’s 120 million Brazilian users overwhelmingly spread false information in favor of Bolsonaro.

Another recent week-long study also detected almost 4,000 Twitter bot accounts, of which 70 percent supported Bolsonaro and only 28 percent favored Haddad.

According to some analysts, this social media blitz has created a favorable persona for Bolsonaro, but one that is mostly fiction.

“People identify with Bolsonaro’s speech, because in terms of the imagination, of magical thinking, he solves public safety issues and placates their fear,” said Paolo Baia, a Sociologist. “The voter here is not voting in favor of a platform or proposals. He is voting for something he thinks will be best and each person has their own idea of who Bolsonaro is.”

While the supreme electoral court is investigating bot-driven social media accounts and fake news, but it has not taken any action so far. And, if the polls are correct, Bolsonaro is heading towards a landslide victory. 

To learn more about Brazil’s presidential contenders, CGTN’s John Terrett spoke with Peter Hakim, president emeritus and senior fellow of the Inter-American Dialogue.