That social networks have changed the way of relating in the world is nothing new. Whether through WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram or Telegram, life has been rewritten to take place also in the virtual environment. Politicians also find fertile soil in this space to win supporters, create electoral narratives and even try to rewrite the past.
In 2018, Facebook was one of the centers of political dispute in Brazil. Large ideological groups such as the Free Brazil Movement (MBL) have multiplied on the network, often with the spread of lies driven by bots. At the time, the platform was under pressure to create new rules against the spread of fake news and restrict the reach of political profiles, which resulted in that year in the banning of the MBL group.
Shortly after a year of the Brazilian elections, Ben Soupple, WhatsApp representative, admitted that there were mass shootings on the app during the presidential election that elected Jair Bolsonaro.
With the confirmation of the influence of the networks for the electoral process, more changes have emerged, this time on WhatsApp. There is now a limit number for the simultaneous forwarding of messages, in addition to an alert that this is a forwarded message.
Contrary to what happens on social networks, such as Facebook itself, in messaging applications it is more difficult to locate the person responsible for spreading false information.
“It is encrypted from end to end, it is not available. This is perhaps the big difference between messaging apps on one side and social media platforms on the other. What you post on Facebook, Twitter, there it is ”, explains Francisco Brito Cruz, director of InternetLab, research center in Law and Technology.
Faced with these obstacles, organizations and political figures have found in Telegram the solution found to continue their plans. This time, combining the functionality of both types of platforms: the exchange of private WhatsApp messages and the mass shooting of content from social networks.
Founded by Russians in 2013, Telegram gained prominence with the leakage of the exchange of messages between former judge Sergio Moro and attorney Deltan Dallagnol, who showed that the Task Force and Operation Lava Jato and the former judge worked together to influence the judgment of former President Lula.
More recently, the platform has become a haven for right-wing groups and supporters of the current president since the Facebook, Whatsapp and YouTube took more stringent measures against fakenews, such as flagging fake content.
With this same language of private or group messaging, the app takes on the old WhatsApp proposal for itself: sharing with mass reach. Permission to forward messages to as many people as you want, whether in groups or channels.
‘It’s not a migration’
despite the boom of Telegram, people have not stopped using WhatsApp. The Russian app operates as an additional network, which relays content from the rest of the
An example is the channels maintained by Jair Bolsonaro and his children and supporters. Telegram is used to share material, but relies on followers to transmit messages on other platforms. While the use of bots and mass firing channels is important, organic sharing is still the key factor for the propagation of network information.
Telegram says that end-to-end encrypted conversations in private chats “ensure that no government or bloc of countries with similar ideas can invade people’s privacy and freedom of expression.” In addition, the platform also informs that all content provided is the user’s responsibility, and therefore does not accept reports or requests for exclusion.
For the digital sociologist and researcher at the Federal University of Bahia, Leonardo F. Nascimento, the biggest differential between 2018 and 2022 will be in Telegram’s potential: “In the channels, the broadcaster fires the message to an unlimited number of people. The larger the channel, the greater the shares outside the application ”.
And even if the platform is also used by leaders of the left, center and other party and non-party groups, the growth is more expressive in the channels linked to the president. This is what a survey conducted by the UFBA data laboratory with the research firm Volt Data Lab says.
Carlos Bolsonaro’s channel, 03, for example, went from 8,603 to 33,893 members in just three months, an increase of more than 290%. The data collected reveal not only growth, but a possible “territory preparation” to leverage the Bolsonar campaign in 2022.
The lack of transparency contributes to the sharing of untruths on a large scale without punishment. “Telegram does not have a legal representative in Brazil, it has no employees here, it has no legal presence, you have no one to turn to. What they give you is free territory for any and all crimes, including in the electoral period ”, points out Thiago Tavares, president of the NGO SaferNet Brasil and coordinator of the National Cyber Crime Reporting Center.
Around the world, the blunt view of the application to advocate violence is also a source of protest. After the invasion of the Capitol in the United States in refusal of Biden’s victory, researcher and activist Gwen Snyder received death threats and had personal data released in retaliation for her denunciations against extremist groups.
She leads POWER, a Philadelphia interfaith coalition that fights white supremacy and structural racism and denounces what happened on various social networks, criticized Telegram’s response, which said it blocked the groups, but according to her the groups remained in air.
The document clarifies that the measures of social networks in relation to the policies of the platform for removing false content, punishing hate crimes and even opening data for the identification and punishment of perpetrators of terrorism crimes, are the transparency reports.
It would be through him, for example, that he could check whether or not Telegram blocked the American extremist groups denounced by Snyder. The Telegram claims to share reports every six months, however the channel created on August 13, 2018 remains empty to this day.
Newer social networks, like TikTok, own the report, the app has released content removals and court requests since 2019. The Facebook, Twitter and Instagram also reinforce the same practice.
In addition to transparency, another warning sign is for bots. The construction of Telegram was designed for the creation and proliferation of mechanical robots, which can be simple automatic messages as they already exist in WhatsApp Business but can go well beyond and expand to the message automation trade, to reach a specific audience and to as many people as you want, looking like ordinary people.
Article 34 of the Resolution No. 23,610 / 2019 do Superior Electoral Court prohibits the firing of mass messages. One of the penalties is the removal of the content, but as this is not possible in this type of message, the fine can range from R $ 5,000.00 (five thousand reais) to R $ 30,000.00 (thirty thousand reais). The General Data Protection Act (LGPD) also prohibits the practice.
Safernet Brasil through the National Cyber Crime Reporting Center investigated and passed on 96 cases of electoral fraud in the 2020 elections. Thiago Tavares points out that in the 2022 elections, the preparation for problems with social networks goes through an old problem, the lack of staff to investigate the number of complaints. In addition, he points out: “as the company [Telegram] will cooperate with the Brazilian electoral authorities, with the fulfillment of the TSE resolutions on propaganda and on mass shooting of messages, it is just an unanswered question and we have little time to find those answers, after all the elections are already in the year next”.
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