WhatsApp bans more than 100,000 accounts in Brazil election

WhatsApp bans more than 100,000 accounts in Brazil election

WhatsApp bans more than 100,000 accounts in Brazil election

The app is owned by Facebook, which is under scrutiny after revelations of organized abuse of social media in 2016 to sway public opinion in the United States presidential election and the Brexit referendum in Britain.

The WhatsApp messaging service said Friday that it has sent "cease and desist" letters to stop companies from sending bulk messages related to Brazil's election, after a report that businessmen were bankrolling a campaign to spread fake news in support of leading far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro. Newspaper Folha de S.Paulo this week reported allegations that companies are paying for a mass social media campaign against Haddad, and the country's top electoral court responded on Friday night by saying it will open a formal probe against Bolsonaro.

The pro-Bolsonaro rallies came a day after thousands took to the streets to protest his candidacy.

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This new format of crime and those behind it need to be investigated by a highly qualified expert body, she said.

It is unclear what effect, if any, the accusations will have on opinion polls. The latest survey, taken before the initial report was published, showed Bolsonaro enjoying 59 percent of the vote, compared to Haddad on 41 percent.

Mr Haddad has complained frequently that he was the target of false social media information campaigns.

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The recriminations highlight the outsized political role of WhatsApp in the election in Brazil, where its more than 120 million users rival the reach of Facebook's main platform, in a country with a population of nearly 210 million. Haddad said his party had witnesses who heard Bolsonaro encouraging business leaders to fund the efforts. That, they allege, amounts to illegally soliciting undeclared campaign contributions.

The messaging app allows groups of hundreds of users to exchange encrypted texts, photos and video out of the view of authorities or independent fact checkers, enabling the rapid spread of misinformation with no way to track its source or full reach. Illegal under-the-table funding by companies could, if proven, lead to the disqualification of the Bolsonaro ticket, said attorney Guilherme Salles Gonçalves, an electoral law expert. Flavio Bolsonaro wrote on Twitter, adding that the ban had since been lifted.

The messaging service confirmed that it blocked the account of Mr Bolsonaro's son Flavio for spam a couple of days ago.

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