October 13, 2022

Factually is a newsletter about fact-checking and misinformation from Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network. Sign up here to receive it in your email every other Thursday.

Journalists and fact-checkers in Brazil are concerned about the state of fact-checking in the country, both in the political attacks they face and in fact-checking’s ability to affect outcomes.

Since 2018, we’ve been attacked by president Bolsonaro and his supporters due to our fact-checking and verification efforts,” said Tai Nalon, executive director and co-founder of Aos Fatos, a Brazilian fact-checking organization. “Specifically, we’ve been threatened with judicial abuse from his supporters.”

Polls also demonstrated lower predictive ability in Brazil, with results in some races deviating by as much as 30 points.

Respected pollsters showed former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva 14 points ahead of current President Jair Bolsonaro in the days leading up to the Oct. 2 election. While Lula secured 48% of the vote, just shy of a majority, it was not enough to clinch the election and only five points more than Bolsonaro’s 43% — a substantial departure from the polling.

The same dynamic played out in other races across Brazil — polls proved inaccurate, largely underestimating right-wing candidates, or “Bolsonaristas.” Expert explanations of this trend mostly contend that many people do not decide their votes until Election Day.

“It’s difficult to understand. There are many pollsters with many different methodologies that didn’t get a last minute wave towards Bolsonaro, but I feel that’s because people are only sure about their decisions at the last minute,” said Tai Nalon, “It sounds obvious, but it’s not. What are the incentives in a very polarized society to choose right away who to vote for, if nothing is supposed to change? Of course there are a lot more factors, but sometimes people are just paying attention to something else.”

Courts have been forcing candidates to remove false and misleading information from social media, though at a pace far outmatched by the circulation of misinformation itself.

“The Electoral Court justices have been demanding campaigns and candidates remove misleading posts from social media platforms,” Nalon said. “However, timing is their enemy. Many of their decisions are already outdated when published because disinformation spreads fast, gaining traction on WhatsApp or Telegram.”

Aos Fatos’s fact checks have previously been censored by Brazilian courts, including two fact checks on Brazilian publication Revista Oeste. Last year, a Brazilian judge ruled that Aos Fatos had to remove references to Revista Oeste, after the paper brought them to court, claiming the fact checks created financial issues.

“Disinformation comes from the top, as Bolsonaro makes false statements and amplifies conspiracy theories from small, extremist groups,” Nalon said. “But misinformation is also more fragmented, as social media platforms and apps, such as Telegram, TikTok, Kwai, Gettr are more popular.”

Nalon added that, “it’s clear that, compared to 2018’s election, misinformation in video is much more prevalent.”

The runoff will take place Oct. 30. Although pundits and polling have Lula winning, if Brazil’s election track record has taught us anything, don’t bet on it.

Interesting fact-checks

  • (Shutterstock)

  • Boom Live: Who started the rumors of the coup in China?
    • “Last weekend, the internet was abuzz with massive rumors of a coup d’état against Chinese President Xi Jinping. Most of these rumors suggested that Xi has been put under house arrest, and that Li Qiaoming, former General of the People’s Liberation Army, is set to replace him. Some rumors even suggested that Xi was executed.” (English)
  • Lead Stories: Germany did not declare war on Russia 
    • “There are no credible reports or official statements confirming this claim. Even a video posted on Facebook with a headline asserting that Germany had declared war on Russia provided no information about a formal declaration of war nor anything else that would substantiate such a claim.” (English)
  •  Vishvas News: Army dogs are not killed after retirement 
    • “Vishvas News came across a reel being shared on Facebook which claimed that the dogs serving in the Indian army are killed after their retirement, since they know all the locations inside. Vishvas News in its investigation found the claim to be misleading. The dogs serving in the Indian Army are not killed after retirement.” (English) 

Quick hits


From the news: 

  • Latina immigrants may be exposed to Spanish-language disinformationJust after news leaked in May that the Supreme Court planned to overturn Roe v. Wade, (Liz) Lebron and her colleagues noticed a spike in misinformation on abortion being shared in Spanish on social media.” (NPR, Maria Godoy)
  • Misinformation swirls in non-English languages ahead of midtermsThe social media accounts pushing misinformation are now targeting audiences in more languages on more topics and across more digital platforms, with scant resistance from social media companies.” (The New York Times, Tiffany Tsu) 
  • Turkish disinformation law could be devastating “A bill to criminalize the spreading of disinformation in Turkey is not designed to end disinformation, “but to end factual reporting and freedom of expression,” Mustafa Kuleli, vice-president of the European Federation of Journalists, EFJ, has told BIRN.” (Balkan Insight, Hamdi Firat Buyuk)

From/for the community: 

  • The International Fact-Checking Network at the Poynter Institute has awarded $450,000 in grant support to organizations working to lessen the impact of false and misleading information on WhatsApp. In partnership with Meta, the Spread the Facts Grant Program gives verified fact-checking organizations resources to identify, flag and reduce the spread of misinformation that threatens more than 100 billion messages each day. The grant supports eleven projects from eight countries including India, Spain, Nigeria, Georgia, Bolivia, Italy, Indonesia and Jordan. Read more about the announcement here.
  • To tackle the spread of health-related misinformation and debunk common perceptions around healthcare and practices at the ground level, THIP Media and Newschecker — both signatories to the IFCN — announced a collaboration at the beginning of September. “Both teams will collaborate to identify and fact-check health myths and misinformation prevalent on social media.”
  • Stay tuned for more information on grant recipients in future additions of Factually.
  • The Supreme Court denied Candace Owens’ appeal in her court case against IFCN signatories Lead Stories and USA Today. Read more here.

Thanks for reading. If you are a fact-checker and you’d like your work/projects/achievements highlighted in the next edition, send us an email at factually@poynter.org by next Tuesday. Corrections? Tips? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at factually@poynter.org.

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Seth Smalley is a reporter at Poynter and the IFCN. Get in touch at seth@poynter.org or on Twitter @sethsalex.
Seth Smalley

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