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Brazil’s dirty campaign: a disinformation guide

Photo: Andre Borges / AFP

| By AFP |

Brazil’s election campaign has been an orgy of mudslinging, social media attacks and outright lies so outlandish they are sometimes comical.

Here is a look from AFP’s fact-checking team at some of the top disinformation techniques — none of them particularly high-tech — used in the online proxy wars between backers of far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and leftist rival Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva ahead of the country’s presidential runoff on October 30.

Quotes out of context

One of the main methods seen in the social media disinformation campaign is editing context out of video footage to make the candidates appear to say something they haven’t.

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For example, a video was widely shared Wednesday by Bolsonaro backers, including influential Evangelical pastor Silas Malafaia, in which Lula says: “I have to lie. Politicians have to lie.”

The veteran leftist did utter those words the night before — but was mimicking Bolsonaro when he said it.

“Bozo (his mocking nickname for the incumbent) is a compulsive liar,” Lula, 76, said in a podcast interview. “He literally says, ‘I have to lie.’”

Bolsonaro, 67, has also been targeted with the tactic.

In one clip, he appears to say he will name scandal-plagued ex-president Fernando Collor to his cabinet to “confiscate retirees’ pensions.”

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In reality, Bolsonaro was talking about a rumor swirling online.

Pink menace

Bolsonaro warns ex-president Lula (2003-2010) wants to “impose communism” in Brazil, and often points to crises in other Latin American countries as examples of the dangers of left-wing rule.

Amid signs of a new “pink tide” emerging in the region — with leftists now in power in Argentina, Chile and Colombia, among others — the disinformation campaign has cast a wide muckraking net.

One viral post accuses Colombian President Gustavo Petro’s leftist government of “authorizing pedophilia,” based on a measure that legalized marriage for minors older than 14.

But the measure was adopted in 2021, under conservative ex-president Ivan Duque.

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“Starving locals attack poultry and pig farmers in Argentina,” warns another apocalyptic message, accompanying a video of pillaging that allegedly occurred under leftist President Alberto Fernandez.

In reality, the images came from the Colombian town of Puerto Tejada during protests last year against Duque’s government.

Videos from violent protests in Chile in 2019 under conservative ex-president Sebastian Pinera have likewise been misrepresented as happening under current President Gabriel Boric, who took office last March.

Fake polls

Fake opinion polls showing one candidate with a large lead are another common tactic.

Sometimes the supposed polls are completely fabricated. Other posts use editing software to change the figures in TV news reports.

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In fact, most real polls give Lula a small lead over Bolsonaro.

‘Proof’ of fraud

Multiple claims of fraud went viral after the first-round election on October 2, in which Lula took 48 percent of the vote to 43 percent for Bolsonaro.

Lula supposedly won more votes than there were inhabitants in a list of cities that circulated widely. But the figures cited are incorrect, and some of the cities don’t even exist.

Other viral posts allege the vote count on election night followed an algorithm in which Lula gained one percentage point and Bolsonaro lost one-half for every 12 percent of polling stations that reported results.

But those numbers do not match actual figures.

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Fake articles

Other posts copy the look of established media to spread false news reports.

The G1 news site operated by Globo, Brazil’s biggest media group, is a frequent target.

One screen capture of a supposed G1 article has Lula saying he will confiscate Brazilians’ firearms if elected.

Another quotes him as saying, “Even God can’t stop me from winning this election.”

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International

Food prices send hunger soaring in Latin America: UN agencies

Photo: AP News

| By AFP |

Rising food prices in Latin America and the Caribbean caused the number of people going hungry in the region to rise by more than 13 million between 2019 and 2021, a United Nations report said Tuesday.

The report by three UN agencies said the region was particularly vulnerable to the global food crisis caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine due to a high reliance on wheat, maize and fertilizer imports.

“The number of people in the region suffering from hunger increased by 13.2 million to 56.5 million,” read the report, released at a press conference in Santiago, Chile.

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In addition, moderate or severe food insecurity affected 267.7 million people — 40.6 percent of the region’s population — in 2021. 

This is “far above the world average” of 29.3 percent, said the report.

“The rise in food inflation and extreme poverty is one of the factors behind the increase in food insecurity and hunger,” said the report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

According to the FAO, food insecurity refers to a lack of regular access to healthy and nutritious food.

“The heavy reliance on imported fertilizers, and fluctuating food prices, have an unavoidable negative impact on livelihoods — mainly of the rural population — and access to healthy food,” said Mario Lubetkin, FAO Assistant Director-General.

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Colombia landslide kills 34

Photo: AFP

| By AFP |

Heavy rains in northwest Colombia sent a wall of earth crashing onto a winding road, swallowing up a bus and other vehicles and killing 34 people, emergency services said Monday.

The landslide Sunday evening prompted a large rescue effort, with dozens of people in hard hats using backhoes and excavators to dig through the earth looking for victims.

The National Unit for Disaster Risk Management said the fatalities included eight minors and that nine other people were injured in the disaster in the remote town of Pueblo Rico.

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The bus had set out from the city of Cali with 25 passengers, and traveled 270 kilometers (170 miles) before being hit by the landslide as it passed through the Andes mountain region, civil defense officials said.

Colombian media reported that a child had survived and was pulled from the arms of its mother, who did not make it.

One survivor said the bus driver had at first managed to dodge the worst of the landslide.

“Part of it was coming down and the bus was a little bit back from that. The bus driver was backing up when it all came crashing down,” Andres Ibarguen told radio station Lloro Stereo.

The rainy season that began in August is Colombia’s worst in 40 years, according to the government, causing accidents that have left more than 270 people dead.

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The country has declared a national disaster over the rains linked to the exceptionally long La Nina weather phenomenon, which cools surface temperatures and is currently causing drought and flooding around the globe.

Today, the landslide “puts this town in mourning, tomorrow it could be in another area, because we really have many unstable areas in the country, and the rainy season has not ended,” said Javier Pava of the UNGRD.

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization said last week the La Nina conditions could last until February or March 2023.

In Colombia, the phenomenon has also caused crop damage, compromising food supplies and leading to soaring prices.

In July, three children were killed in northwestern Colombia when a landslide buried a rural school. In February, 14 people died in a mudslide triggered by heavy rains in central-western Risaralda province.

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International

At least 27 killed in Colombia landslide: president

Photo: AFP

| By AFP |

At least 27 people were killed when a landslide engulfed a road in northwest Colombia, trapping people in a bus and other vehicles, said President Gustavo Petro on Monday.

“It is with sadness that I must announce that, so far, 27 people, including three minors, have lost their lives in the tragedy” that struck on Sunday in a remote area of the Pueblo Rico municipality, Petro wrote on Twitter.

On Sunday evening, the president reported three dead, as dozens of rescue workers searched for survivors.

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One survivor said the driver of the bus managed to dodge the worst of the landslide.

“Part of it was coming down and the bus was a little bit back from that. The bus driver was backing up when it all came crashing down,” Andres Ibarguen told radio station Lloro Stereo.

The bus had set out from the city of Cali with 25 passengers, civil defense officials said.

The rainy season that began in August is Colombia’s worst in 40 years, according to the government, causing accidents that have left more than 270 people dead.

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