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Elections Brazil 2018: How to tackle misinformation on the internet?

A dangerous polarisation exists in our society. New technologies and digital media intensify a process of misinformation that feeds into this polarisation, but if we want fair elections, we must combat this. Español, Português

Sao Paolo's skyline at dusk. Image: Francesc Badia i Dalmases. All rights reserved.

A dangerous polarisation exists in Brazilian society. On one hand, there are 3000 million reales (725 million US dollars) in public resources from the Electoral and Party Politics Fund to be used during electoral campaigns by parties and candidates.

On the other, there are the legal gaps and shortcuts that facilitate the spread of fake news with sophisticated technology that can influence the results of the elections.

The past year has seen Brazil turned into a laboratory for constructing proposals to perfect the electoral propaganda machine over the internet. It has become an opportunity for decision makers, civil society, legislators and educators to identify and deal with the faults in the flow and processing of intentional misinformation and dishonesty. 

In a recent investigation presented by the ITE (Institute of Technology and Equity), the organisation identified robots programmed to simulate human behaviour over social media that are fed by information automation technologies.

Also known as bots, these machines work to collect information, on executing actions, content creation and how to simulate users on social media, responding and interacting with real people.

Even before the current electoral cycle began, it was possible to observe how bots are able to exploit content from certain politicians, creating a scenario where some topics of interest within the bubble of particular candidates reach voters from entirely different political groupings.

Within the social media bubbles that generate intersections between politicians, organisations, institutions and those who influence public opinions online regarding issues such as abortion, legalisation of drugs, reduction of age limits etc, bots create an illusion of spontaneous consensus on a large scale.

They manipulate trending topics, they initiate movements through their network of bots, and they facilitate the reinforcement of this system by human users.

Even before the current electoral cycle began, it was possible to observe how bots are able to exploit content from certain politicians, creating a scenario where some topics of interest within the bubble of particular candidates reach voters from entirely different political groupings.

Technologies and tools exist for many different situations for the purpose of increasing efficiency of the impact these automatic actions have, such as the use of artificial intelligence to give life to communication robots without being recognised, and the use of deep-fakes, techniques that allow the superimposing of images and videos over original content, thus creating fake images, audios and videos that are increasingly harder to identify.

In this context, Brazil needs to define a legislation specifically for electoral propaganda on the internet that addresses the use of personal data in electoral campaigns, artificial intelligence tools, fake news, technology transparency, external monitoring, investments and support.

The authorities, with the active participation of civil society, must improve the flow of well founded allegations. It is necessary that these accusations are more streamlined  and that they lead to judicial proceedings if applicable.

It is necessary that content checks to identify misinformation and categorised and distributed on a large scale. Implementing protocols that facilitate the rapid dissemination of checking information on technological platforms and social networks is a part of this.

Google, Facebook, and Twitter must make an effect to provide answers and to combat the algorithmic distribution of misinformation. It is extremely important to act drastically to reduce the reach of fake information, eliminating the financial incentives for its existence, and to increase the contractual sanctions for offences.

Promoting more balanced, equal and transparent financing models is fundamental, supporting the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) in establishing the execution of the electoral and political party fund using tokens within a block-chain of the tribunal.

This would increase levels of trust in public funding and its transparency, considering it would be possible to trace the destinations of public resources not only regarding transfers but also applications, with concrete evidence that shows they have been used for their intended purpose.

What’s more, measures that assure and reinforce intellectual development and literacy regarding tackling misinformation in schools, are of particular importance for the strengthening of journalism with actions that develop communication and verification of facts on social networks as a way to assure the quality of public debates, reinforcing the culture of veracity.   

In these up and coming elections, a significant sector of the Brazilian population affected by political debates via the internet will participate. Generally speaking, there is already a strong disbelief in relation to representation within the political system and the politicians themselves.

There is also a dangerous division/polarisation within society and a process of misinformation that is only intensified by new technologies and social networks, that feed into this polarisation.

In these up and coming elections, a significant sector of the Brazilian population affected by political debates via the internet will participate. 

In this context, it becomes necessary to strengthen actions of strategic actors so that citizens have the tools to identify legitimate content, to promote a broader understanding of the issue, and to assure quality of debates to achieve a more participatory, a fairer and more transparent electoral process. 

We understand that informed and democratic elections are those in which the objective to provide voters with legitimate information regarding candidates and their proposals exists.

Informed elections mean to not be deceived by distorted or false information, and mostly, they mean the right to participate in a debate in which ideas are not driven by hatred and intolerance. 

About the authors

Ariel Kogan es director del Instituto Tecnología y Equidad, una organización sin fines delucro que desarrolla investigaciones y proyectos experimentales que contribuyen a alcanzar la equidad con el uso ético de la tecnología.

Ariel Kogan is the director of the Institute for Technology and Equity, a not-for-profit organisation that develops investigations and experimental projects that contribute towards acchieving equity through the ethical use of technology. 

Marcio Vasconcelos es presidente del Instituto Tecnología y Equidad, una organización sin fines delucro que desarrolla investigaciones y proyectos experimentales que contribuyen a alcanzar la equidad con el uso ético de la tecnología.

Marcio Vasconcelos is the president of the Institute for Technology and Equity, a not-for-profit organisation that develops investigations and experimental projects that contribute towards acchieving equity through the ethical use of technology. 


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