Fact or fake?: How social media can impact in election results

When breaking news appears, many of us do not hesitate in running to social media for more information. We do not stop getting notifications. We receive tons of audios, photos or videos concerning that particular issue. But, are all of them true? How can we differ between a fact and fake news? Unfortunately, what we find in networks like twitter, facebook or Whatsapp isn’t always accurate. 

Access to TICs has grown over the last decades. This signifies that we can receive information instantly on our phones. But not only that, we can produce content on our own and spread it without restrictions. This possibility meant an authentic revolution in the way we consume media some years ago. People were not just an audience, we became prosumers. 

Now, in the post-truth era, the challenge is to discern. Not everybody has a honest intention in what is disseminated, specially when information is related with political subjects. Fake news are nothing new, it always existed deceits disguised as true news but they have never appear as usually as nowadays. We are bombed with information, check it out is the only thing we can do to be aware about what we are spreading.

Brazil case

One year after Brazil election it is time to review how social media can be used at the expense of democracy and how fake news helped Bolsonaro, extreme right-wing candidate, to reach the power and become president of the biggest South American country.

In an electional dispute, fake news can be propaganda or they can promote hate and provocation. In any case, they try to generate reactions and to influence people’s opinion. Far-reaching fake news were crucial in this election results. Just mentioning some example: Haddad (left-wing party candidate, PT) withdrawing his candidacy, Lula da Silva supporting Bolsonaro or enterprises firing thousands of people if Workers’ Party (Portuguese: Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT) wins.

What it was different about Brazil misinformation dissemination is that Whatsapp was the main tool to spread these messages. As opposed to Facebook or Twitter, where the audience can comment and deny the information, Whatsapp is a closed media. The news mushrooming in groups of people with a similar way of thinking. There, fake news circulation has no end. There, nobody questions the veracity of any topic. 

During this electoral campaign, due to the massive diffusion of fake news, Whatsapp blocked hundreds of thousands of accounts to control suspect behaviours. Even Bolsonaro’s son account was blocked during several hours.

By 2022, the majority of individuals in mature economies will consume more false information than true information

In this scenario, what we can do as societies to avoid fake news is to work on verifying journalism and education. We need journalists who check data and investigate about true facts. We need educators who are able to prepare children and teenagers to face a world full of fake news. We need to be able to distinguish between facts and fakes.

In developing countries, where authoritarian governments can use fake news as an excuse to censor and limit the press freedom, education and journalism are weapons to defend democracy.

2 Comments

  1. Cajsa Mosbakk Martinsson

    Thank you for bringing this important topic to surface. Fake news is indeed a challenge. As you mention, WhatsApp is a closed media wich makes it far more difficult to track and report. I believe the problem with this is that people have a tendency to throw wood on the fire which usually reinforces existing beliefs and repeats the eco chamber. In the end, we risk threats as xenophobia and misogyny to grow. Interesting to read about an example from Brazil!

  2. Michael Buggle

    Hi Jacinta,

    Thanks for this piece, it’s such an interesting topic and one that’s on everyone’s mind globally. ‘By 2022, the majority of individuals in mature economies will consume more false information than true information’ I found this to be such a disturbing fact! I really like how you used the Brazilian political case study to provide context to the blog post. I recently read about how WhatsApp has also been manipulated in Nigeria for political elections. The following Economist article (see below) talks about how they even have a job titles for the appointees of political leaders who share fake propaganda information to stir political support of disapproval. With this, I wanted to ask you about accountability. Who do you think is responsible for ensuring that fact-checking or the policing of information takes place, particularly with regard to political elections – do you think the social platforms need to step in or is it the governments job to enforce tighter regulations on political messaging?

    Article: https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2019/07/18/how-whatsapp-is-used-and-misused-in-africa

    Thanks!
    Michael

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