WhatsApp has blocked hundreds of thousands of accounts of user accounts in Brazil amid the mass proliferation of fake news messages via the app in the run-up to the country’s presidential elections.
Speaking to Bloomberg, a WhatsApp spokesperson said: “We have cutting-edge technology to detect spam that identifies accounts with abnormal behaviour so that they can’t be used to spread spam or misinformation. We are also taking immediate legal measures to prevent companies from sending mass messages via WhatsApp and have already banned accounts associated with those companies.”
Brazilian media outlets reported that supporters of the far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro had paid various marketing firms as much as $3.26 million each to create what amounted to social media smear campaigns against rival candidate Fernando Haddad. The federal police have launched in investigation into the mass messages, while a Brazilian court has confirmed it will also look into the issue.
The blocked accounts include one closely connected to Brazil’s former president Dilma Rousseff, as well as the account of Bolsonaro’s son Flavio. Brazil is a hugely important market for WhatsApp as it has over 120 million users in the country, but it has seen its share of difficulties there; the messaging app was temporarily suspended in both 2015 and 2016 for refusing to share data relating to a criminal case with the relevant authorities.
Brazil is not the only market where WhatsApp has caused controversy for enabling the swift spread of misinformation. Between May and July this year in India, around 12 people were believed to have been killed as a direct result of mob violence incited by fake news messages disseminated via WhatsApp. The company responded swiftly by slashing the number of groups that a single message can be forwarded to, as well as disabling the quick forward button in India.