As Brazil nears the climax of its most bitter and polarized election in recent history, academics and digital activists fighting to stem a rising tide of fake news say that accurate coverage of the campaign risks being drowned out by the sheer volume of lies being spread on Facebook and WhatsApp. On Monday, Brazil’s electoral court ordered Facebook to remove links to 33 fake news stories targeting Manuela D’Ávila, a communist party politician and the vice-presidential candidate for Fernando Haddad of the Workers’ Party (PT). D’Ávila party hailed the decision as a victory, but one digital media expert said it was a mere drop in the ocean. “This is nothing. It’s irrelevant amid the lies and attacks in this election,” said Pablo Ortellado, a professor of public policy at the University of São Paulo who leads a project monitoring public debate on social media. “There is very little correct information.”
Haddad – who replaced his party’s jailed founder Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as its presidential candidate – scored 29% of the vote in the election’s first round on Sunday, trailing the rightwing candidate Jair Bolsonaro who took 46% of the vote. The two men face a runoff vote on 28 October.
In the electoral court’s ruling, Judge Sérgio Banhos gave Facebook 24 hours to provide the IP addresses of computers used to register the accounts that posted the fake news stories – and the personal details of the page administrators. Facebook said it would obey the ruling, and the links have already been removed.