Brazil Elections: Facebook's WhatsApp “taking immediate legal action” against political spammers

WhatsApp, the messaging application business owned by Facebook, said on Friday it is “taking immediate legal action” against companies responsible for a flood of political spam ahead of Brazil's presidential elections.

Campaign propaganda has flooded social media in Brazil ahead of an Oct. 28 run-off vote in the presidential election.

Brazil's Folha (in Portuguese) is the best primary news source on this story.

WhatsApp's legal action today immediately follows a Folha report a couple of days ago that various companies (funding sources) linked to the extreme-right-wing frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro paid social media firms to send hundreds of millions of messages to Brazilian voters' phones that attacked Bolsonaro’s rival, former São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad.

Here's a machine translation of Folha's late-Friday update:

One day after Folha published a report showing that companies are funding political message campaign as mass-messages (Spam) on WhatsApp, the company sent out legal notices to Quickmobile, Yacows, Croc services and SMS Market agencies to stop their activities.

And in related reporting at Quartz by Luiz Romero, a bombshell report in Brazil linked fake political disinfo on WhatsApp to Brazil’s presidential frontrunner. In other words, just like Trump in the USA in 2016.

An exposé by Brazil’s largest newspaper could dramatically change the South American country’s already volatile presidential election.

Folha reported that firms linked to far-right frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro have hired social media companies to send hundreds of millions of messages to voters attacking Bolsonaro’s rival, former São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad, and his Workers’ Party.

Folha also reported the companies are planning a massive misinformation campaign next week, just days before the final presidential vote on Sunday, Oct. 28. WhatsApp, Facebook’s ubiquitous messaging service, has been under attack around the world for allowing the spread of rumors, false news, and political lies, sometimes with deadly consequences.

Experts told Folha that the WhatsApp campaign could have broken the law in at least three ways: Companies, like those allegedly bankrolling the operation, are forbidden from making political donations; any electoral spending must be registered with regulators, and this wasn’t; and it’s illegal to buy large phone number lists to distribute messages, as was reportedly done here.

If it’s proven that Bolsonaro benefitted from the messaging campaign, his candidacy could be cancelled, or if he has already been elected, he could be removed from the presidency.

Bolsonaro, a radical right-wing candidate—known for his support of Brazil’s bloody dictatorship, and his conspiracy-fueled attacks on women, minorities, and institutions—is currently the heavy favorite to win the presidency. The latest poll, released Thursday (Oct. 18), shows him with a 59-41 lead over Haddad.

Bolsonaro is in lots of trouble, including campaign finance matters. That didn't stop Trump.

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