of which Election Offered A Window Into WhatsApp’s Wild, Sometimes Fact-Free World

“What we do know can be of which people trust the information they see in a WhatsApp group along with are more likely to read every message of which comes into the platform.”

Posted on October 9, 2018, at 2:15 p.m. ET




Nelson Almeida / AFP / Getty Images

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — A rumor circulating across WhatsApp of which weekend had a warning for supporters of Brazil’s far-right presidential candidate, Jair Bolsonaro: Show up to the polling stations wearing any sort of merchandise with his name or face on of which, along with you will be turned away along with unable to vote. of which, you see, was part of a coup organized by Brazil’s electoral commission, which doesn’t want Bolsonaro to win. Of course, none of of which was true, although of which didn’t stop of which coming from being one of the most shared pieces of content in public groups on WhatsApp in Brazil.

Facebook’s penetration in Brazil can be undoubtably massive, ranked third inside entire world, behind India along with the US. although WhatsApp, the messaging service also owned by Facebook, can be the true beating heart of the internet here. According to a study in 2016, nearly 100% of internet users in Brazil have WhatsApp. of which means about 40% of the country’s 207 million people are using the app.

WhatsApp can be also a nightmare for fact-checkers. Nieman Lab called of which a “black box of viral misinformation.” Brazil’s political activists, especially on the far right, have been extremely aggressive about using of which to organize. Last year, Movimento Brasil Livre (MBL), or “Free Brazil Movement,” a right-wing pro-Bolsonaro youth movement, was the subject of an investigation by one of the country’s biggest papers, which reported coming from inside one of their WhatsApp groups. The paper discovered of which MBL was using WhatsApp groups like “MBL merchants” or “MBL lawyers” to spread their content — including rumors along with fake news. BuzzFeed News has reached out to MBL for comment.

Due to WhatsApp’s encrypted messaging structure along with the peer-to-peer nature of of which, of which’s impossible to know what people are sharing or how frequently. although if a WhatsApp monitor built by local fact-checking group Eleições Sem Fake can be any indication, of which looks just as overrun with misinformation as Facebook can be.

Fabrício Benevenuto, an associate professor of computer science at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, along with creator of the WhatsApp Monitor, told BuzzFeed News of which the tool gathers data across 350 politically motivated WhatsApp groups. of which pulls in images, videos, audio files, links, along with text posts.


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A sample of one of the versions of the WhatsApp chain letter warning voters not to wear Bolsonaro gear to polling stations.

Benevenuto said of which attempting to track misinformation on WhatsApp has been extremely hard, due to the social network’s encryption, although he said the fake news his monitor collected became increasing politicized as the election drew closer.

Over the weekend, the monitor was able to record groups sharing the rumor of which Bolsonaro supporters would certainly be turned away coming from polling stations if they wore any merchandise supporting the candidate. On both Saturday along with Sunday, several versions of the rumor were among the top a few most shared posts across the 350 public groups.

“We don’t know the extent to which public groups represent private groups,” Benevenuto said. “of which can be reasonable to assume of which a malicious misinformation campaign might attempt to maximize the audience of a fake story by sharing of which in existing public groups. So, we believe these groups are the front door for misinformation to reach the private groups.”

Aimee Rinehart, who works with First Draft, an international group of researchers along with journalists who fight digital misinformation, said the tricky thing about WhatsApp can be no one actually knows what’s happening inside of private groups.

“What we do know can be of which people trust the information they see in a WhatsApp group along with are more likely to read every message of which comes into the platform, unlike Facebook where you skip many posts because of likes/dislikes,” Rinehart said.

Moderating WhatsApp isn’t impossible. Since May, WhatsApp misinformation has contributed to 17 different lynching incidents across India. One event completely destroyed a village. Over the summer, during the Karnataka state elections in India, WhatsApp detected along with banned several accounts of which were engaged in spam-like behavior. along with in a September blog post, Mark Zuckerberg wrote of which WhatsApp along with Facebook’s moderators coordinate on banning malicious users.

“Our systems are shared, so when we find bad actors on Facebook, we can also remove accounts linked to them on Instagram along with WhatsApp as well,” he wrote.

In Brazil, WhatsApp can be working closely using a local fact-checking service called Comprova, the first fact-checking group to use the WhatsApp Business API to scan for misinformation. although of which access still doesn’t give journalists or researchers a clearer idea of what can be being shared in or between family or friend groups.

Much has been made of Facebook’s efforts to combat misinformation on their platform inside lead-up to Brazil’s national elections earlier of which month. In July, Facebook deactivated 196 pages along with 87 accounts in Brazil for their part in “a coordinated network of which hid behind fake Facebook accounts along with misled people about the nature along with origin of its content, all for the purpose of sowing division along with spreading misinformation.”

Facebook didn’t publicly disclose any specifics about the pages along with profiles deactivated in their pre-election purge, although senior organizers coming from the pro-Bolsonaro youth movement, MBL, confirmed on Twitter of which many of their pages were affected. along with while of which appears of which Facebook was able to successfully neuter some large constellations within Brazil’s solar system of hyper-partisan Facebook pages, what isn’t clear can be what effect of which has had on WhatsApp.

Rinehart also points out of which in Brazil, Facebook along with WhatsApp are much more intricately linked, both technologically along with culturally. Many posts on the newsfeed have a button underneath them of which allows you to instantly share them to WhatsApp.

“Closed messaging apps like WhatsApp are definitely concerning,” Rinehart said. “of which would certainly be ideal for Facebook to end the easy share button coming from Facebook to WhatsApp, or at least develop the surrounding content travel with of which to provide context.”


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The most shared link across the public WhatsApp groups on Monday was of which petition for the Brazilian military to inspect the next round of voting at the end of the month.

of which connection between WhatsApp along with Facebook was seen over the weekend as the polling center rumor spread. A quick search showed of which many users were copying along with pasting the WhatsApp message into Facebook along with vice versa. along with, genuinely driving home the interconnectedness of WhatsApp along with Facebook, the most shared WhatsApp post on Friday was just a link to a Facebook video made by Roberto Motta, the founder of The brand-new Party, asking people to vote for Bolsonaro.

The Bolsonaro voter rumor itself has connections to a wider suspicion of electoral fraud of which spread across public social networks like Twitter along with Facebook on Sunday. A video surfaced Sunday afternoon of a voter trying to type in a number for a presidential candidate on a voting machine only to have of which immediately change their vote to one for Fernando Haddad, the candidate of Brazil’s leftist, populist former president Lula da Silva along with his Workers’ Party (PT). The video originated on Facebook along with was first shared by a user named Lucas Andressa.

Local Brazilian media immediately debunked the video. although of which didn’t stop of which coming from being shared by thousands of people — including Bolsonaro’s own sons.

The next round of voting isn’t shaping up to be much better as far as WhatsApp’s influence can be concerned. On Monday, the most shared item on the public WhatsApp groups was a petition for the military to inspect the second round of votes on October 28.

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