Brazil presidential candidate’s son banned from WhatsApp after fake news spam claim
- Company said it banned hundreds of thousands of accounts, with media saying they included firms that sent out masses of election-related messages
The politician son of the far-right favourite to become Brazil’s next president has been kicked off WhatsApp amid allegations his father’s push for power has been turbocharged by an illegal fake news blitz on the Facebook-owned messaging app.
One of Brazil’s top newspapers on Thursday claimed Brazilian entrepreneurs were bankrolling a multimillion-dollar campaign designed to boost Jair Bolsonaro by inundating WhatsApp users with messages undermining his leftist rival Fernando Haddad.
Haddad called for Bolsonaro to be barred from the presidential race for what he called a criminal “defamation campaign” of fake news and lies.
Polls suggest Bolsonaro – a former army captain who enjoys an 18-point lead over Haddad – is on course for a landslide victory in the October 28 run-off vote.
The latest twist in an increasingly dramatic race for the presidency – during which Bolsonaro suffered a near-fatal campaign trail stabbing – came on Friday when his son Flavio said he had been banished from WhatsApp.
Flavio Bolsonaro tweeted a screenshot of his smartphone showing a message in Portuguese saying: “Your telephone number … is banned from using WhatsApp. Please contact support for help.”
“There are no limits to this persecution,” Bolsonaro, a newly-elected senator and a key member of his father’s campaign, wrote. “My WhatsApp, with thousands of groups, was banished OUT OF NOWHERE, without any kind of explanation! I demand an explanation from the platform.”
In a second tweet Bolsonaro confirmed his account had been blocked but then reactivated “without a clear explanation for this censorship”.
A WhatsApp representative said it had “banned hundreds of thousands of accounts during the Brazilian election period”.
“We’re also taking immediate legal action to stop companies from sending bulk messages on WhatsApp and have already banned accounts associated with those companies,” the representative added.
The Folha de Sao Paulo reported that WhatsApp had also blocked accounts of four companies involved in what it called illegal mass sending of election-related messages.
Jair Bolsonaro has rejected claims he was involved in the fake news campaign, calling the allegations themselves fake news.
“We don’t need fake news to fight Haddad. The truth is more than enough,” he said in a Facebook live broadcast on Thursday night.
One of the most outlandish lies being peddled involves the bogus claim that, as Sao Paulo’s mayor, Haddad equipped schools with so-called mamadeiras eróticas (erotic baby bottles) with penis-shaped teats in a supposed bid to fight homophobia.