Brazil Police to Probe Election Disinformation on Social Media

Presidential frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro of the Social Liberal Party flashes thumbs up to supporters after voting at a polling station in Rio de Janeiro Brazil Sunday Oct. 7 2018

Presidential frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro of the Social Liberal Party flashes thumbs up to supporters after voting at a polling station in Rio de Janeiro Brazil Sunday Oct. 7 2018

WhatsApp is among the most preferred messaging and social media apps in Brazil, which is home to roughly 120 million users.

Facebook set up a "war room" to spot and eradicate misinformation, hate speech and other damaging content during Brazil's election this month.

The app is owned by Facebook, which is under scrutiny after revelations of organized abuse of social media in 2016 to sway public opinion in the United States presidential election and the Brexit referendum in Britain.

While the company said it was able to thwart false information on its main social network, it's had more trouble controlling misbehavior on WhatsApp, which is encrypted and virtually impossible to monitor.

Facebook has touted efforts to crack down on misinformation on its main platform ahead of the October 28 presidential run-off between right-winger Jair Bolsonaro and leftist Fernando Haddad. WhatsApp has already said it was taking measures to stop companies using its service to send out bulk messages.

Bolsonaro, in his turn, denied any involvement in the reported violation.

The injunction requests Bolsonaro's ineligibility due to abuse of economic power.

Brazil's chief electoral court on Friday opened an investigation into the allegations, which pundits quickly labelled "WhatsAppgate".

Bolsonaro wrote on Twitter that his opponent's party "isn't being damaged by fake news, but rather by the TRUTH". Haddad said his party had witnesses who heard Bolsonaro encouraging business leaders to fund the efforts. "I know that this violates the law but I can not learn about it [in advance] and take measures [to prevent it]", Bolsonaro said, as quoted by the Antagonista news outlet. "We are committed to reinforcing WhatsApp policies equally and in a fair way to protect the users' experience", it added.

The tech company said previously it had banned hundreds of thousands of accounts inside Brazil found to have engaged in spam or automated "bot" behavior ahead of the election.

WhatsApp confirmed that it blocked the account of Bolsonaro's son Flavio for spam a couple of days ago. It also noted that it banned an account related to former Brazil president Dilma Rousseff, a member of the Workers' Party.