Fake news probe in Brazil exposes "Office of Hate" within government

Access will be requested to computers that were allegedly used to spread misinformation with taxpayer money.

The investigations into the dissemination of fake news have advanced in Brazil as details of the government's online communication strategy have been unveiled.

Former allies of president Jair Bolsonaro and other key actors are being called in to give evidence to the committee leading the investigations and the latest session pointed to the operation of a "fake news central" in Brasília.

According to a ten-hour session involving a former government leader in the Congress, Joice Hasselmann, a group of presidential staff routinely spreads fake news and defames the opposition across social networks as part of their day job.

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Hasselmann's statement describe the inner workings of a cluster operating right next to the presidential office in Brasília, charged with the development and execution of the online communication with the supporter base.

She added that the so-called "Office of Hate", orchestrated by the president's sons Carlos and Eduardo Bolsonaro, produces daily global and national news reports as well as sentiment analyses, which are used to guide decision-making, as well as extensive use of bots to spread misinformation online.

The group operates with an agenda of subjects and targets to be attacked, the politician noted in her statement. About 20,000 reais ($4,800) of public cash would be paid every time bots were used to amplify the messages from the president's office. "I suggest the money trail is followed as we are talking about millions", Hasselmann argued.

There are almost 1,3 million bots following the president's Twitter account alone, Hasselmann noted. These profiles allegedly boost the reach of the messages posted on the social networks of the president and his sons.

President Bolsonaro has been previously accused of illegal campaigning tactics using messaging service WhatsApp. The president and his family are understood to have been advised by Donald Trump's former campaign strategist, Steve Bannon.

Formerly a key ally of president Bolsonaro, Hasselman herself is also a controversial actor in Brazilian politics. She was one of the targets of a major Telegram hack in July, which led to some exchanges between politicians making their way to journalists at news site The Intercept, which began publishing a series of ongoing exposés.

Following the congresswoman's claims, the committee will request the IPs of the computers used by the staff mentioned in the statements to find evidence of whether taxpayer money was actually being used to spread fake news online.

The fake news committee, which works alongside a group of specialists from the Federal Prosecution Service, the Brazilian Bar Association and the Congress itself, will now investigate the facts described by the former presidential ally.

President Bolsonaro dismissed  the latest developments, describing the Office of Hate as an "invention that some idiots believe in." There was no comment from the president regarding the upcoming technical investigations.