In Brazil, the campaign is rife with misinformation on social media, as well as on television, where the presidential candidates themselves are not shy about spreading it.
Since the official start of the campaign a month ago, the main candidates have been interviewed almost every day in prime time on the main channels, apart from official spots that air immediately before the news on TV, which attracts tens of millions of viewers.
AFP review teams found a plethora of erroneous or misleading remarks from two front-runners, leftist ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and current head of state Jair Bolsonaro (far right).
“Our government had the idea to create Pix through the Central Bank,” Mr. Bolsonaro said, for example, last week during a variety show by renowned host Ratinho on SBT.
In fact, this instant online payment method, which revolutionized banking transactions in Brazil, was developed by the Central Bank in 2018 during the reign of his predecessor, Michel Temer (center right).
The following day, Lula told CNN Brasil in an interview that he had been cleared of all corruption charges.
All his guilty verdicts were overturned, but most of them were for formal faults, and his innocence was not really proven.
“A campaign is, first of all, a confrontation of discourse on the main issues of elections. And in order to draw attention to these speeches, candidates do not hesitate to make misleading statements, or even literally give false information,” explains Amaro Grassi, AFP Public Policy Analysis Coordinator of the Getúlio Vargas Foundation.
The fact that politicians are lying on TV is not news in itself, but this over-exposure in the last stretch of the campaign allows disinformation to take on a new dimension by reaching a wider audience.
“Television remains a medium, a means of reaching out to the general population, and not just preaching to converts,” as is often the case with social networks with their algorithms, says Helena Martins, professor of communications at the Federal University of Ceara (UFC).
Not to mention that television is perceived by a significant part of the population as a “place of truth,” she insists, quoting the catchphrase: “if it’s on TV, it’s because it’s true.”
Few are undecided
While attacks between the main candidates come from all sides, 85% of Brazilians believe that disinformation could directly affect the October 2 elections, according to an Ipec Institute poll released two weeks ago.
However, Amaro Grassi believes that the false information spread during this latest campaign straight line may have less impact as the number of undecideds is historically small.
A poll conducted by benchmark institute Datafolha last week found that 78% of Brazilians are “fully determined” to vote in the presidential election.
Among the voters of Lula and Bolsonaro, 86% of respondents are sure that their choice is final.
“The intentions of the vote have already crystallized very clearly. It is unlikely that speeches, communication strategies will have a real impact at this stage,” summarizes Mr. Grassi.
But, he said, the election is also “a duel between two candidates, causing sharp rejection.”
That’s why President Bolsonaro has fueled rumors that his opponent on the left will oppose farmers, evangelical churches he will close, and pro-abortion to fuel anti-Lula sentiment.
The former trade unionist, for his part, sometimes overstated the two-term balance sheet (2003-2010) to compare favorably with Bolsonaro’s, in particular with regard to the economic situation.
For example, during a televised debate, he said that in his presence the budget for education increased five times, but in fact three times.