Fake News on WhatsApp: How FB’s Free Basics Broke Brazil Election
Bolsonaro did not thanks to misinformation alone. A powerful desire for political change in Brazil after a years-long corruption scandal and a court decision compelling the jailed front-runner to withdraw from the race both opened the door wide for his win.
Days before the 28 October runoff between Bolsonaro and his leftist competitor, Fernando Haddad, an investigation by Folha revealed that a conservative Brazilian business lobby had bankrolled the multimillion-dollar smear campaign – activities that may have constituted an illegal campaign contribution.
Election Scandal Fallout
Using WhatsApp, a Facebook-owned messaging service, Bolsonaro supporters delivered an onslaught of daily misinformation straight to millions of Brazilians’ phones.
They included doctored photos portraying senior Workers Party members celebrating with Communist after the Cuban Revolution, audio clips manipulated to misrepresent Haddad’s policies and fake “fact-checks” discrediting authentic news stories.
It’s a WhatsApp-Defined World
Most Brazilians therefore have unlimited social media access but very little access to the rest of the internet. This likely explains why 95 percent of all Brazilian internet users say they mostly go .
Concern Over Africa’s Elections
As in Brazil, many Africans get through Facebook’s Internet.org and Free Basics platforms. But, worryingly, most African countries have little or no data protection and no requirements that internet providers treat all digital content equally, without favouring specific apps.
In my analysis, Facebook and a handful of tech companies are now racing to the data gathered through sponsored apps, allowing them to profile millions of Africans. Lax government oversight means that may never be informed that they pay for these “free” apps by exposing their personal information to data mining by private companies.
Such personal information is exceedingly profitable to advertisers in Africa, where Western-style public polling and consumer surveys is still rare. It is easy to imagine how valuable targeted advertising would be for political candidates and lobbies in the lead-up to Africa’s 2019 elections.
Move Fast and Break Democracy
Democracy cannot thrive when the electorate is intentionally misinformed about candidates, parties and policies.
For over a decade, social networks have been associated with free communication, unfettered by gatekeepers like news editors or fact-checkers. Many in Silicon Valley and beyond saw this as broadly beneficial for society.
That can be true when social networks are just one of many ways that people can engage in open and pluralistic debate. But when just a handful of apps are available to the majority of users, serving as the sole channel for democratic dialogue, social media can be easily manipulated to poisonous ends.
Mark Zuckerberg’s longstanding motto was, “Move fast and break things.” That , perhaps because it is increasingly evident that democracy is among the things that Facebook and friends have left broken.
(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for thesame. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.)
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