Brazilian authorities admit fake news struggle

"Whoever has the solution to fight disinformation, please show it to us", says Supreme Electoral Court minister.
Written by Angelica Mari, Contributing Writer

Brazil's Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) has conceded that it is struggling to deal with the overwhelming wave of fake news created and disseminated around the country's presidential elections.

In a press conference that took place yesterday (22) following the emergence of a WhatsApp mass messaging scandal involving leading presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro , TSE minister Justice Rosa Weber said there was no failure regarding Brazil's electoral justice around dealing with disinformation, but later admitted there is a problem.

"We all know fake news is a worldwide phenomenon, which calls for reflection. We would like to have an immediate and effective solution, but we don't," Weber told journalists.

"Whoever has the solution to fight disinformation, please show it to us. We haven't discovered a miracle," she added.

"[Fake news] is a new occurrence that happens in parallel to the real world and [in the digital environment] rules are different. We still don't have a legislation that allows us to give an efficient answer - we are uncovering the issue."

Taking time

Weber was questioned whether the investigation into Bolsonaro's campaigning practices - and the seven legal proceedings associated to the case - would be concluded before the run-off this coming Sunday.

WhatsApp has notified the marketing companies involved in the scheme and banned spam accounts. Parent company Facebook has also taken down a number of pages and accounts supporting the frontrunner candidate. The quick reaction from the social networks to the occurrence suggests the authorities have been slow.

However, the TSE minister and the other senior government and Federal Police figures present in the conference refused to provide any details about any progress that had been made or about deadlines.

"The timing of these proceedings may not always cater to the immediate desires of Brazilian citizens but it is the time that is necessary to observe the legal process and to give a responsible answer," Weber said.

Lack of rules

When questioned about why there were no guidelines in place to deal with the issue when the TSE had created a council specifically for that purpose, the authorities present stated that the group's purpose was to provide a multidisciplinary view of the topic to the decision-making bodies - but not to step on the TSE's toes.

While the group has barely met since its inception , the latest developments prompted the TSE to call in a meeting today, which would involve fact-checking agencies and technology companies behind social media tools, including Facebook.

On the point of creation to rules around controlling disinformation online, Weber also pointed out that the TSE "didn't expect that fake news would turn against the electoral system itself", in an allusion to information spread in the social networks about a possible fraud in the electronic polling machines, which would in theory have prevented Bolsonaro from winning outright.

The minister reaffirmed that the electronic voting system is auditable and any attempt to fraud would generate evidence that would be investigated.

"The Electoral Justice maintains a calm and serene posture, however troubled the moment may be and is always open to constructive criticism for the improvement of the electoral system and correction of failures that may eventually be verified," Weber pointed out.

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