Although Bolsonaro is colonizing the Telegram with a view to the 2022 elections, his strategy does not do without WhatsApp. Rather, the idea is that the two messaging apps are part of the same structure for disseminating false news and other material aimed at disinformation.
WhatsApp is pointed out as one of the electoral cables of the then president of the Republic by allowing the mass firing of messages. But more effective than that was Bolsonaro’s fueling groups of followers, who went into the digital melee.
Jair’s followers fired material that gained traction manually due to a characteristic of the application at the time: the anonymity (of who produces the lying message) and viralization (of a content). In this way, fanciful stories were distributed in the blink of an eye, such as the iconic “PT’s baby bottle” today.
Due to the criticism it received for the negative impact it was having on the elections in Brazil and India, the application adopted suggestions, including those coming from Brazilian researchers and experts, limiting the number of people and groups to which a message could be shared by five. Later, the platform adopted the limit of only one share for frequently forwarded messages.
This did not solve the problem of the platform, but it made it difficult to manipulate the public debate through it.
In this new scenario, Bolsonaro will use the Telegram to ensure the supply of ammunition to his army of followers to wage war on his behalf throughout 2022. These pocketnarists, in turn, post the content received by the Telegram in their groups on WhatsApp from friends, family and co-workers.
This is facilitated by the fact that Telegram has much less rules for use for its community and has no office in Brazil – which makes it practically impossible for court decisions in a timely manner to remove content or even the platform from the air, contrary to what happens with WhatsApp. Created in 2013 by Russian brothers Nikolai and Pavel Durov, the company is now headquartered in Dubai.
This structure of the lie, which distributes content via Telegram and branches via WhatsApp, relies on the fact that, despite the left drumming that support for Bolsonaro on the networks is mostly carried out by robots, he has a large number of followers engaged in spreading whatever he wants. According to the latest Datafolha poll, 15% of Brazilians believe everything the president says.
Bolsonaro does not need Brazil to be on the Telegram, just that his followers remain loyal and active, ready to act as electoral cables, carrying the messages forward. This reinforces the importance of the president keeping these 15% constantly excited and mobilized, whether with threats of a coup d’état or attacks on institutions and journalists.
After being sued by the Electoral Justice, WhatsApp has been removing lying videos from the air during the elections. Each video, when posted, has a kind of ID that can be identified. Lawyers for harmed candidates take this data to the judge, who orders the removal – which leads to it being removed from all cell phones. But until that happens, hours or days pass, enough for the lie to go viral and take effect.
Not to mention that the same cannot be done with text content.
Yes, the president did not want to structure the logistics of combating the pandemic, but he is structuring the logistics of lying for the elections. A matter of priorities.