This weekend, Brazilians are at the polls voting in their presidential election. Latin America’s largest economy is grappling with a record number of homicides, a job crisis, a corruption scandal, massive protests and a tough on crime candidate some call Brazil’s Donald Trump. Of course it’s hard to know just what to believe Brazil is seeing a historic amount of fake news these days. And they’ve launched an all out effort to stop it. Scott Thuman reports from Brazil.
Brazil, with its beautiful beaches and flashy festivals--has always stood out--and this election is no exception. The early leader in the polls launched his presidential campaign from jail while serving 12 years for corruption, one of the current front runners is in the hospital after he was just stabbed at a rally. And the political chaos only intensifying, due to an alarming surge in fake news. Eduardo Bueno is a journalist & commentator.
Eduardo Bueno: Brazil can be a growing field for fake news because first, people love gossip. Second, they’re not educated. Third, they don’t care about real information. So it’s perfect!
In a recent case, video of enormous crowds circulated on social media suggesting one of the presidential candidates has huge support. In reality, it was soccer fans watching a match during the world cup months ago. According to a Reuters institute study, 90% of Brazilians get their news online. Of those, more than 70% are using a smartphone to access social networking sites and the Facebooked-owned messaging app "Whats-app" ...where fake news spreads at the speed of a click. Dangerous Bueno says, since users often don’t know the validity of what they’re passing along.
Eduardo Bueno: And in Brazil, you have to vote, right? It’s a law. You cannot say, “I wouldn’t vote.” You have to vote. There is a fee, you have to pay a fee if you don’t vote.
Some in Brazil's Congress have proposed up to 8 years in jail for intentionally spreading false information. And it’s not just Brazilians trying to preserve the sanctity of their elections. Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, with support from Google, Facebook, Twitter, and others- are working on a project called ‘comprova’, meaning ‘proof’- bringing together 24 media companies, quickly fact-checking stories and allowing voters to send in rumors they received for vetting. Such efforts though can be controversial, since Google and Facebook are under scrutiny in the US for allegedly censoring certain viewpoints.
In another Brazilian fake news case, a photo of Army trucks adorned with a candidate's banner was widely shared - suggesting a military endorsement. The photo is real but the trucks are army surplus.. sold off to a private buyer long before campaigning began.
Raquel Krahenbuhl covers politics in Washington for Brazil’s Globo News, one of the companies trying to fight these falsehoods.
Raquel Krahenbuhl: Some candidates are also spreading falsehoods, right? They are because it helps them and they speak things. They say things they believe to be true, but without checking also the facts. Right. Or even checking in history books.
Scott: Do you think it will affect the outcome of the election?
Raquel Krahenbuhl : I think it could. I think it's still too early to know the impact we're going to know after the election, but actually it's a real fear.
So much so, Facebook has shut down 100’s of pages and accounts. And Brazil’s high court has expressed, it could even invalidate or cancel the election should it feel, it’s no longer fair.
Scott: Are you shocked or surprised by how quickly the fake news is spreading right now?
Raquel Krahenbuhl: Yeah, it's crazy. It's crazy. And it's like people that you look at and you say, I cannot believe this person is sharing this information. The authorities in Brazil are really, really worried about the impact of fake news after seeing what happened in the election here in 2016. I think after the election we all know the real impact and then learn from mistakes.
Already looking ahead, schools have even begun classes teaching young Brazilians how to spot fake reports.
Eduardo Bueno: And now the country's divided, so every side wants to attack the other. So they keep putting all the time, fake news, all the time. I can't believe that people still believe in the fake news. The fake news is gonna became the real news very soon, because there is more fake news than real news in social media in Brazil.
A BBC World Service Poll last year showed 92% of Brazilians are concerned about discerning between fact and falsehood online. That is the highest of *any* country surveyed.