Bolsonaro vs. Lula: Can Brazil end fake news before the elections?

Mary Rose Filgueiras Lacerda confesses that she used to forward a lot of fake news.

“I thought they were true!” she says of the invented stories, and she is not the only one. Although fake news has challenged citizens and governments around the world, a 2020 study found that Brazilians fall for fake news more than people in other countries, including the United States.

why are we writing this

Fake news has been a global scourge, but Brazilians’ heavy use of social media makes them particularly susceptible. Now, Brazil is trying to set an example to combat disinformation.

Brazil is one of the largest users of social networks in the world, with around 75% of the population on at least one platform. And the way the messages are delivered, which are based more on voice notes or images overwritten with text, makes them difficult to filter. Experts say low levels of education and mistrust of institutions combine with heavy use of social media to create a perfect breeding ground for disinformation here.

In 2018, a torrent of disinformation in favor of President Jair Bolsonaro helped propel the far-right candidate to an upset victory. And with Brazil gearing up for a close presidential race in October, fake news is already making the rounds on all platforms.

Mrs. Lacerda enters. With the help of a local news collective, she is trying to find out about reliable sources and how to spot misinformation. But it is not just the non-governmental organizations that carry out digital literacy training that are combating the problem. Congress proposed legislation, and the Supreme Court even weighed in.

Rio de Janeiro

Whenever a story with an outlandish headline came her way, Mary Rose Filgueiras Lacerda used to flip through it and forward it without a second thought.

But when flashy stories hit WhatsApp more often, he grew suspicious. “I thought, this is strange. Not everything can be true,” says Ms. Lacerda, a retiree who lives in Divinópolis, in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais.

He decided to take action and signed up for a digital course that teaches Brazilians over 50 how to spot fake news. For five days, her daily messages urged her to read past the headlines and double-check her sources. Short YouTube videos taught you how to spot fakes and detailed how videos, images and memes can be manipulated.

why are we writing this

Fake news has been a global scourge, but Brazilians’ heavy use of social media makes them particularly susceptible. Now, Brazil is trying to set an example to combat disinformation.

“I confess that I used to forward a lot of fake news because I thought it was true,” says Ms. Lacerda. “What I learned … showed me that we have to be vigilant.”

Ms. Lacerda’s concerns are not misplaced. Fake news and disinformation campaigns have hit Brazil hard in the last five years. And even with Brazil’s presidential election in October still months away, fake news about the upcoming election is already spreading on platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Telegram and TikTok.

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