By Ricardo Brito and Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s national electoral authority is announcing moves to crack down harder on online disinformation in a fierce presidential campaign between far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and leftist challenger Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
The Superior Electoral Court (TSE) said the measures are intended to curb the “distribution and sharing of knowingly untrue or gravely decontextualized information affecting the electoral process,” according to the resolution.
The tougher stance, defined by Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes, who currently runs the TSE, reflects a more aggressive approach to a tidal wave of dirty campaigning that has engulfed Brazil ahead of the Oct. 30 runoff.
The TSE will levy fines of 100,000 reais ($19,000) per hour for online platforms that fail to take down fraudulent content after two hours, according to the resolution, which will also ban all paid political advertising online in the 48 hours before the vote.
The TSE has already ordered some disinformation videos to be taken down, including ones that say Lula consorts with Satan and Bolsonaro embraces cannibalism. The campaigns have also been ordered by the court to pull online ads saying the leftist will legalize abortion and the incumbent entertains pedophilia.
The TSE crackdown has raised concerns from both campaigns that it is edging into censorship of legitimate political debate.
The Bolsonaro camp has complained that the TSE has told it not to run ads calling Lula “corrupt” and a “thief” because bribery convictions that put him in jail were later annulled by the Supreme Court.
Brazilian broadcasters have also said they have been prohibited from using the words “ex-convict,” “thief” or “corrupt” when speaking about Lula. The broadcaster lobby ABERT protested that such decisions were interfering with freedom of expression.
By contrast, Bolsonaro allies complain that the TSE has not stopped opponents from accusing the president of “genocide” for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic that killed 680,000 Brazilians.
And over the weekend, Lula allies were up in arms when the court blocked an ad using clips of Bolsonaro talking about visiting the home of adolescent Venezuelan migrant girls who he suggested were preparing to prostitute themselves.
On Wednesday, Moraes stressed the need for faster takedown of disinformation in a meeting with tech companies including Twitter Inc (NYSE:); Google, owned by Alphabet (NASDAQ:) Inc; Microsoft Corp (NASDAQ:)’s LinkedIn; and Facebook (NASDAQ:), Instagram and WhatsApp, run by Meta Platforms.
Moraes said the platforms had helped keep disinformation within reasonable bounds ahead of the election’s first-round vote on Oct. 2.
“But we are having a second round that is getting worse and worse in this aspect, and this has required tougher measures by the TSE,” he told reporters on Thursday.
($1 = 5.2141 reais)
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