SAN FRANCISCO: WhatsApp banned hundreds of thousands of accounts in Brazil as the Facebook Inc. messaging service struggles to contain spam, misinformation and political shenanigans ahead of a runoff election in Latin America’s largest country.
Facebook set up a ” war room” to stem the tide of hate speech, false information and other damaging content during Brazil’s election this month, marking a test for the social network ahead of the November midterm elections in the US. While the company said it was able to thwart false information on its main social network, it’s had more trouble controlling misbehaviour on WhatsApp, which is encrypted and virtually impossible to monitor.
“We have cutting-edge technology to detect spam that identifies accounts with abnormal behavior so that they can’t be used to spread spam or misinformation,” a WhatsApp spokesperson wrote in an email. “We are also taking immediate legal measures to prevent companies from sending mass messages via WhatsApp and have already banned accounts associated with those companies.”
Brazil’s runoff election is Oct. 28, when far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro faces leftist Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad. Newspaper Folha de S.Paulo this week reported allegations that companies are paying for a mass social media campaign against Haddad, and the country’s top electoral court responded on Friday night by saying it will open a formal probe against Bolsonaro. Several political parties, including Haddad’s Workers’ Party, are jointly requesting that Bolsonaro be declared ineligible for 8 years for abuse of economic power and misuse of digital communication.
Brazil’s federal police also opened an investigation into allegations of spam message campaigns on WhatsApp related to the election.
Bolsonaro wrote on Twitter that his opponent’s party “isn’t being damaged by fake news, but rather by the TRUTH.” Meanwhile, the head of Bolsonaro’s PSL party, Gustavo Bebianno, said he did not know the businessmen suspected of making donations.
WhatsApp said on Friday that it’s taking the accusation seriously. “We are committed to reinforcing WhatsApp policies equally and in a fair way to protect the users’ experience,” it added.
WhatsApp confirmed that it blocked the account of Bolsonaro’s son Flavio for spam a couple of days ago. The company said it was unrelated to the accusations on Thursday. It also noted that it banned an account related to former Brazil president Dilma Rousseff, a member of the Workers’ Party.