False information relayed in France after the riots in Brazil

Contrary to political condemnations, they welcomed the invasion of places of power in Brasilia, capital of Brazil, on January 8. On French-speaking social networks, accounts usually relaying conspiratorial remarks defended the invasion of the Presidential Palace of Planalto, the Supreme Court and the headquarters of Congress by supporters of Jair Bolsonaro, the outgoing far-right president.

On the front line, theories on electoral fraud have come to support their point, particularly targeting the electoral process since the second round won by Lula, the candidate of the left (PT), on October 30 and his investiture, which took place on January 1st. 20 minutes make the point.

The media showed “nothing of the electoral fraud”

Posts concerning allegations of electoral fraud have (again) become viral in France since January 8, shared in particular by the conspiratorial youtubeur Silvano Trotta for whom the media have “shown nothing of electoral fraud”. They also find an echo in far-right networks in the United States, through the Trumpist Steve Bannon. However, no serious evidence of fraud has been provided. In Brazil, the electoral campaign was, on the other hand, marked by disinformation, the outgoing president shouting, like Donald Trump, at electoral fraud, without proof.

Many disinformation messages on this supposed electoral fraud are “very close, even copied, from those which circulated in the United States” in 2020, underlines, with 20 minutesMarcela Duarte, product manager at Lupa, a Brazilian fact-checking site certified by the International Fact-Checking Network (just like 20 minutes). For example, note Lupa, in April 2022, a fake study in English went viral, it would prove that a fraud would take place in the first round of the presidential elections, scheduled for October 2 and 30, based on Benford’s law. This false information had already circulated in 2020 in the United States and was verified in France by Release.

Since the second round, false reports and misinterpretations of the electoral process have continued to be widely relayed on Brazilian social networks. After Lula’s election, the fact-checking media Lupa verified more than 20 pieces of content between October 30 and November 23, 2022. These articles relate to unfounded suspicions of fraud on electronic voting machines and alleged vote buying. After the election result, “the credibility of the electoral process has become the main object of disinformation”, write the Lupa journalists.

Electronic voting is “doubt, fraud, chaos”

As in the United States under Trump, the reliability of electronic voting, in force since 1996 in Brazil, was strongly questioned during this election. In France, Florian Philippot, former right-hand man of Marine Le Pen, argued that “electronic or postal voting is doubt, fraud, chaos” in the United States and Brazil, in a tweet shared more 800 times since January 8.

Jair Bolsonaro himself attacked him repeatedly before the October ballot, without ever providing evidence of irregularities. After the defeat, the president’s far-right supporters continued to promote these theories, notably by camping in front of the barracks to demand the intervention of the military. In particular, the PL, Bolsonaro’s party, asked the Electoral Tribunal in November not to take into account 59% of the votes in the 2022 elections, explains the daily. Folha de S. Paulo. This request was based on the misconception that voting machines prior to 2020 could not be inspected, points out Lupa.

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At last, a 65-page report on the electoral system published on November 9, 2022 by the Ministry of Defence, showed “that no inconsistency” had been noted in the result from the electronic ballot boxes, but the document also affirmed that it was impossible to rule out completely the risk of fraud and gave avenues for improvement. This sparked new rumours.

Invading places of power to access “source code”

“We want the source code.” These images of a banner brandished during the invasion of places of power were relayed in French-speaking social networks by conspiracy accounts. What is it about ? This source code is the set of instructions making up the computer program which allows the ballot boxes to count the votes, in a readable form, as they were written in a programming language, details AFP. It was opened for inspection by parties and supervisory bodies as early as October 2021, a year before the poll. But false information circulating massively on the networks insinuates that it would be kept secret so as not to reveal supposed fraud.

“The source code of the ballot boxes is made available and inspected at specific times, at the headquarters of the Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE). It is not data that can be consulted by the general public, ”explained to AFP Lucas Lago, computer engineer co-author of two reports on the Brazilian electoral system. If he recognizes that access to this code could be facilitated, this specialist affirms that “it is a lie to say that the code is kept secret”.

Lula “magically” won 12.8 million votes between 2017 and 2022

The fraud in Brazil would be proven by the appearance of 12.8 million additional voters in favor of Lula, according to a viral tweet, shared more than 1,000 times, based on a graph attributed to the Spanish daily El Pais.

Screenshot of a tweet misinterpreting the number of additional voters.
Screenshot of a tweet misinterpreting the number of additional voters. – Screenshot/Twitter

This misinterpretation of the data was not shared in the Portuguese language, Lupa tells us, and is not part of the assertions relayed in Brazil. The results (given at 99.2%) in the graph seem correct: in 2022, Lula ultimately won the second round with 60.3 million votes and Bolsonaro lost with 58.2 million votes, as evidenced by the official results published on the Electoral Court website.

But Lula was not a candidate for the left in 2017, it was Fernando Haddad, “a candidate much less known than Lula”, underlines Marcela Duarte, product manager of the fact-checking site Lupa. The then PT candidate had lost with 47 million votes against 57.7 million votes for Bolsonaro.

In addition, another point to take into account: “a record number of people could vote in this election”, specifies Marcela Duarte, with 9.1 million more voters than in 2018, indicated in July the Superior Electoral Court. In total, 156.4 million voters could vote in 2022. And “the left has led a very important campaign to call on voters to vote, including young people,” she adds.

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