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Brazil: Facebook interfering with Bolsonaro campaign by censoring conservative groups on WhatsApp

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Brazil is at a tipping point. The country of samba, soccer, beautiful beaches, and beautiful people deserves much better. Corrupt left-wing politicians have destroyed Brazil’s economy and have made Brazilian cities unsafe. In 2017 alone, Brazil recorded close to 60,000 homicides. As a result, conservative politician Jair Bolsonaro is riding a wave of popularity similar to what the United States experienced with President Trump. Bolsonaro has been called “Brazil’s Trump” due to his nationalistic policies and his tough stance on crime. So it comes as no surprise that the jackbooted leftist totalitarians at Facebook would be working hard to destroy his campaign. Bolsonaro’s son was even banned from WhatsApp over spurious claims of “fake news.”

“Facebook `Delighted’ by War Room Response to Brazil Election,” by Sarah Frier and David Biller, Bloomberg, October 18, 2018 (thanks to Mark):

As polls closed in Brazil on Oct. 7, Facebook Inc. data scientists, engineers and policy experts gathered in a new space in the company’s Menlo Park, California, headquarters called the War Room. As they monitored trends on the company’s sites — like articles that were going viral and spikes in political-ad spending — they noticed a suspicious surge in user reports of hate speech.

The data scientists in the room told the policy experts that the malicious posts were targeting people in a certain area of Brazil, the poorer Northeast — the only region carried by the leftist presidential candidate. The policy folks determined that what the posts were saying was against Facebook’s rules on inciting violence. And an operations representative made sure that all of that content was removed.

The company, the world’s largest social network, says that by having different experts in this one room, representing their larger teams and coordinating the response together, they were able to address in two hours what otherwise might have taken several days — time that’s too valuable to waste during a critical election.

“We were all delighted to see how efficient we were able to be, from point of detection to point of action,’’ Samidh Chakrabarti, Facebook’s head of civic engagement, said Wednesday in a meeting with reporters.

Delight is not a sentiment that people in Brazil necessarily share. Despite Facebook’s stronger and more organized coordination of its effort to improve election-related content, Latin America’s largest country was still overrun with misinformation, much of it distributed via Facebook services. False information that was thwarted on Facebook’s main site by the company’s network of fact-checkers was still able to thrive on its WhatsApp messaging app, which is encrypted and virtually impossible to monitor.

Brazil’s runoff election is Oct. 28, when far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro faces leftist Fernando Haddad. On Thursday, the latter asked federal police to investigate his opponent’s campaign for alleged deployment of fake news and improper use of WhatsApp, according to a copy of the request. Haddad also accused his competitor of receiving illegal and undeclared corporate donations after local newspaper Folha de S.Paulo reported companies are paying for a mass social media campaign against Haddad. Bolsonaro wrote on Twitter that his opponent’s party “isn’t being damaged by fake news, but rather by the TRUTH.”

Pablo Ortellado, a professor of public policy at the University of Sao Paulo who has studied fake news, said Facebook has made good strides, but isn’t addressing the full scale of the problem. And he thinks the company’s efforts still won’t be enough to tame WhatsApp, where Facebook doesn’t have visibility into exactly what’s being shared.

“All the malicious stuff of the campaigns went through WhatsApp, that’s the problem,” he said in an interview. “Really, that was one of the disasters of this election.”

Facebook has made some improvements, especially by deleting spam accounts on WhatsApp and labeling links that have been forwarded, Chakrabarti said. Still, some of the most popular election-related stories have contained false information.

A WhatsApp representative said the app is working on education campaigns to help users understand what stories might be credible and recently lowered the limit for how many people can receive a message, to 20 from 256, which may help limit virality….

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