Brazil: Bolsonaro and his supporters turn to Telegram to avoid being silenced for spreading fake news | USA

Jair Bolsonaro’s popularity in the polls is waning by the month. But that didn’t stop the Brazilian president from making an eloquent show of force online a few weeks ago, when he won it. time Magazine readership survey. Tesla founder Elon Musk has been named the Most Influential Person of 2021 by time Itself. Bolsonaro secured a quarter of the nine million votes cast online, comfortably beating former US President Donald Trump, who is much admired. Thanks to the rallying of his supporters, the right-wing politician gave a timely reminder that he’s maintaining his digital power.

The campaign to attract Bolsonaro time It was faked on Telegram, the new digital platform chosen by the Brazilian president and other right-wing leaders who are undermining democracy around the world. It is the space they are taking refuge in from the actions that Facebook, Twitter, Google and YouTube are taking against misinformation and fake news.

Half of the truths and lies circulating on social media played a prominent role during Brazil’s recent elections: the internet was crucial to Bolsonaro’s victory. With elections scheduled for October, electoral authorities are particularly concerned about Telegram, which is rapidly mobilizing users with whom they have not yet been able to establish any kind of dialogue.

Days after Bolsonaro emerged as one of the timePeople of the Year, President of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, Luis Roberto Barroso, wrote to the founder and CEO of Telegram, 37-year-old Pavel Durov. The Brazilian judge asked Durov to cooperate with efforts to combat misinformation. He gave two facts to support his petition: the app was downloaded on half of all cell phones in Brazil and “conspiracy theories and false information about the electronic voting system are now being spread on Telegram,” his email states. Neither Zuckerberg, Russia, nor his company, which is headquartered in Dubai, did not return any representatives in Brazil.

Bolsonaris (and Trumpism) landed on Telegram nearly a year ago, after the 2021 attack on the United States Capitol, when Twitter suspended Trump’s account to start the violent protest. The world’s most powerful politician so far has been left without a primary megaphone, and Bolsonaro noted this. He urged his followers to “Subscribe to my official Telegram account”. Thus began the campaign to seek sanctuary in a space with fewer constraints on the digital strategy that propelled Bolsonaro to power. It has succeeded. The retired army officer has a million followers, more than any other world leader. He is followed by Trump (who has an unofficial account) and the presidents of Turkey, Uzbekistan, Ethiopia and Mexico, according to a report by the Brazilian website Núcleo Jornalismo dedicated to analyzing the impact of social networks on people’s lives.

A Bolsonaro fan takes a selfie with a doll representing the president at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro.Fabio Teixeira (Getty Images)

The recent elections were the most polarizing in Brazilian history. The next stage will also be a fierce battle and evil gameplay will likely abound. Data auditor Christina Tardaghella explained in a recent edition of the magazine Americas Quarterly Audio notation. I supported this assertion for three reasons: The news landscape outside of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia is a wasteland of no independent press. 80% of Brazilians get most of their news from WhatsApp and there is a shortage of fact-checkers.

In addition, Brazil’s population is as addicted to the Internet as few are, there is widespread distrust in institutions and the country is led by a president who denies science and has sowed doubts about the voting process – a cocktail that has great potential to infect the election campaign with misinformation, with the added fear that Bolsonaro will He will refuse to acknowledge the results if he loses.

“Telegram has become an important tool for politicians to talk to their grassroots supporters because it has fewer moderation controls and provides more broadcasting resources,” says the Núcleo Jornalismo report. Bolsonaro’s account is Propaganda 2.0, a torrent of information about government achievements with the added appeal that anyone can comment on posts without revealing their identity. Phrases like “what you won’t find out from the press” are the usual hook.

Telegram was created by Durov in 2013. It has been downloaded over a billion times globally and as a measure of its growing success, it added 70 million new users in a single day last October. At first glance it is similar to WhatsApp, even its appearance is similar, but the rules of moderation are considerably more lenient. There is a ban on incitement to violence or terrorism, and on pornography, but it offers carte blanche to those who wish to frighteningly distort facts or lie unscrupulously. This is a huge advantage for a politician like Bolsonaro, who has been censored by Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for misinformation. Trump’s precedent carries a lot of weight.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro delivers a speech on social media.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro delivers a speech on social media.Getty Images

Telegram also allows groups of 200,000 people, unlike the limit of 256 on WhatsApp, which is set up to prevent fake news from spreading viral, which was prevalent during the recent general election campaign in Brazil. On Telegram, anyone can join a group without an invitation.

If WhatsApp is the protagonist in the 2018 election, the stage is set for Telegram to have a similar impact in 2022. Bolsonaro’s children, like-minded members of Congress and pro-Bolsonaro prominent figures – such as fugitive blogger Alan dos Santos, who was investigated for spreading false news And block it from other social media sites — the president has followed into this new digital territory. For those loyal to Bolsonaro, dos Santos is a martyr of free speech and Supreme Court justices are merely a censor for critical voices.

As part of its strategy to crack down on misinformation, Brazil’s Supreme Electoral Court has succeeded in getting Google to set new requirements for campaign ads and to publicly report who pays for ads. The highest electoral authority also conducts negotiations with other major technology companies to ensure that the elections are clean.

Bolsonaro despises the traditional press. Since taking office he has launched a direct attack on the biggest media outlets. He much prefers the world of social networks, having amassed 45 million followers. For Bolsonaro, Telegram is a platform more geared towards “interacting with people” – of course without the inconvenience of being held accountable or having to respond to a lot of criticism. It is his comfort zone as it has become frosty outside the confines of the digital sphere. It is more and more common for the president to be ridiculed during his carefully controlled public appearances, and there is constant criticism over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, inflation and unemployment.

Since restoring Lula da Silva’s political rights, the former president has boosted his social media presence, but is still light years away from Bolsonaro’s numbers. On Telegram, Da Silva has 46,000 followers and on Twitter, three million, but the home where the ex-union truly feels comfortable is in the analog world of rallies and hugging supporters. Although the pandemic has prevented da Silva from re-entering the fray, he has been leading Bolsonaro comfortably in the polls for several months.

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