Bolsonaro draws inspiration from Trump’s playbook ahead of elections in Brazil

Protesters burn effigy of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro during protest

Alexandre Schneider / Getty Images

With his chances of re-election moving further away, Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro is resorting to increasingly desperate measures to ensure he remains in power after the 2022 election, including using Twitter bots and disinformation to lay the groundwork for an attempted coup, according to election observers. .

At the center of the campaign are calls to reintroduce printed ballots that could make it easier for supporters of the incumbent to argue for voter fraud. For more than a decade, Brazil has used an electronic ballot box system considered safe by the Court of Auditors of the Union of Brazil, as well as by connoisseurs in the field of computer security.

Bolsonaro defenders a return to paper ballots — or rather, a means for the printed votes to be added to the electronic system as a “back-up” to prevent fraud.

While creating a paper trail can improve election security, reliance on paper ballots can also be used to challenge results in some countries. In Brazil, each polling station prints the “ballot paper”, a document printed by the electronic ballot box at the end of the election with the vote count of that place. What Bolsonaro proposes is that each vote, individually, be printed.

But some connoisseurs to believe that Bolsonaro only has an interest in creating a climate of mistrust with regard to the election. They warn that the printed ballot would open the door to election challenges and potentially facilitate a coup that is openly advocated by supporters of the president and backed by the country’s military sectors.

According to Odilon Caldeira Neto, professor of history at the University of Juiz de Fora and coordinator of the far-right Observatory, the campaign is a way for Bolsonaro to further radicalize his base and “to sow doubt on the electoral process , to weaken the electoral system and also to foment a possible story which explains a possible defeat of Bolsonaro in the elections of 2022. “

David Nemer, professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, also notes that Bolsonaro takes a position close to the Trump and Steve Bannon playbook. “It’s a tactic that works, as Bolsonaro has seen in the United States,” he told Motherboard. “Not that Trump was returned to power, but that was enough for an insurgency on Capitol Hill, so he expects the public to support a coup so that he can perpetuate himself in power. ”

After having been defeated in Congress during a vote on the printed ballot, Bolsonaro did not give up and decided to mobilize his supporters on September 7, Brazil’s independence day, in several Brazilian cities. Neto said the event was “the search for building a more cohesive internal narrative and also a process of escalating some Bolsonaro authoritarianism.”

According to analysis By the Rio Institute of Technology and Society (ITS Rio), there has been extensive use of automated bots and profiles to energize the pro-Bolsonaro events on September 7. The Aos Fatos agency, reached a similar conclusion after analyzing thousands of tweets with hashtags related to the protests. According to ITS Rio, at least 25% of profiles who posted tweets in support of the printed vote had a “high probability” of being bots thanks to an analysis of username, syntax and semantics tweet, network usage and timing.

In the case of printed ballot boxes, the use of bots has broken records on Twitter. The hashtag “#brasilpelovotoauditavel” [Brazil for the auditable vote] was used 2,444 times, a record, according to to the Bot Sentinel platform, which monitors the use of bots in political elections. The actions of September 7 also involved the boost of several hashtags by the use of artificial means and false profiles. All of this, Nemer said, “serves to create a false perception that he has more power among the population than he actually has.”

Thousands of people responded to Bolsonaro’s call, but the number of supporters of the president was far less than that of the protest organizers. expected and expected. The protests have served “to show that Bolsonaro’s electoral base is motivated, but this does not translate into broad popular support,” Nemer said.

Through his sons, Eduardo and Carlos, Bolsonaro has also sought support outside Brazil. Nemer highlights the massive use of Parler and Gettr by supporters of the president in an attempt to evade recent action taken against them by the Brazilian Supreme Court.

The president’s support network has been targeted by the Supreme Court in recent months, leading some far-right bloggers and YouTubers to delete thousands of videos containing disinformation about COVID-19 and sending others to jail. But supporters of disinformation networks have been newly emboldened by Bolsanaro’s recent campaigns.

“We have noticed the traditional method used by supporters of the president to take over social media,” said Guilherme Felitti, partner at Novelo data analysis studio, Motherboard said. “Traditionally, a social media personality gets together and within hours some sort of mass campaign begins with some of the biggest social media profiles participating.” In the past, these campaigns have been carried out by viral posts on Facebook and right-wing influencers on YouTube. But unlike previous mobilisations, they’re increasingly taking place on Instagram, Felitti said.

The campaigns come amid close scrutiny from Facebook after Whistleblower Francis Haugen revealed documents showing that the company chose “profits over security” on its platforms before the Jan. 6 uprising in the United States Capitol.

Ford Mason Foundation fellow Yasodara Cordova at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation says social media companies are not doing enough to contain the growth of disinformation bots used in campaigns like Bolsonaro’s.

“[Companies] need to work in the direction of what Twitter does: identify automated accounts faster, identify automated service accounts (the right bots) and their “owners,” ”Cordova told Motherboard. open their data to public interest research, so that these incidents can be predicted and avoided more frequently by researchers.

More importantly, she says, the profit incentives that drive social media companies to reproduce viral content in the first place must fundamentally change.

“It is high time for these companies to move away from the business model of mining data to display advertising,” she said.

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