Brazilian presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro Source: Exame

Brazilian presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro was accused by his adversary of illegal campaign practices — allegedly, Bolsonaro would have allowed and encouraged sympathetic businessmen to pay for and spread defamatory messages on WhatsApp about his rival and his party.

The accusations made by Fernando Haddad, left-leaning candidate for the Worker’s Party, this Thursday (October 17th), follows the report published by the newspaper Folha de São Paulo.

The article says businessmen supporters of Bolsonaro had allegedly paid for the spread of blast-messaging campaigns during the week before the election (October 7th) in secret. Haddad said on Twitter: “We have information that 156 businessmen are involved in this.”

This kind of blast-messaging campaign would be a violation of Brazil’s campaign finance laws that forbids companies from donating money to candidates and/or bankrolling paid promotions on social media.

Among the accused of contributing to the illegal campaign is Luciano Hang, owner of the Havan department stores. The businessman had already made the news before the first round of elections, when he was accused of coercing his employees into voting for Bolsonaro — under the threat of closing stores and firing staff.

But why would businessmen bankroll Bolsonaro’s campaign in the first place?

To put it simply: because the presidential candidate proposes several changes to labor rights that would greatly benefit employers.

Bolsonaro has said in the past the populace would have to choose between having more rights and less jobs, or more jobs and less rights. His government plan favours the latter, and naturally, employers (like Luciano Hang) would benefit dramatically from having the option to pay less and hire more. Likewise, Bolsonaro’s government plan has been criticized extensively — including by his adversary — on account that it greatly favours upper classes and employers while neglecting lower classes and workers.

So far, Bolsonaro declared to have received R$ 2,5 million in donation for his campaign. For comparison, this is about 1/10 of what his adversary has declared. One of the posts that circulated over WhatsApp pointed out the discrepancy of these values, accusing Haddad and his party of spending too much on their campaign. Now, however, these illegal blast-messaging campaigns are said to have cost up to R$ 12 million per contract — which would explain the discrepancy, given the absurd reach of Bolsonaro’s campaign despite the alleged “low-cost.”

The case is still under investigation — and Haddad has not yet declared names of the involved. More developments should come to light over the weekend and the following week.

According to the original article from Folha de S. Paulo, a second blast-campaign was planned for the last week of election.

The second round of elections will take place on October 28th.

How the events line up with the accusations

A closer look at the timeline shows how the accusations match up with the events.

  • Most of the posts spread on the blast-messaging campaign consisted of fake news defamation towards the Worker’s Party (Haddad’s party). Hence why WhatsApp was used instead of any other social network like Facebook, where there are already measures to prevent fake news from spreading, and where it would be illegal to boost publications in favor or against any candidate.
  • The focus on slandering the Worker’s Party aims to exploit an already installed mass hatred against them — John Oliver explained this briefly in a video about Bolsonaro.
  • The blast campaign is speculated to have been an attempt to guarantee victory in the first round of elections. Bolsonaro himself seemed to count on it based on his statements: before the ballot count was done he said he would not accept any result that wasn’t his victory. After the results were final he accused fraud on the ballots and a video of said fraud started to circulate online. Now, the video has already been proven fake.
  • Here’s how these previous points add up — by counting on a first round win (which very nearly happened) and considering that the blast-messaging campaign was spread in the week before the election (with focus on the election weekend specifically), there would not have been enough time to prove the publications were false. Hence why Bolsonaro immediately accused fraud as the results came in, and why now that most of it has been uncovered, he refuses to participate in a debate with his adversary.*
  • Even stranger, on the weekend of election, the #EleNão (#NotHim) movement was exploding to the point where international media was reporting the manifestation on the streets of Brazil. The strange part is how Haddad’s rejection increased instead of decreasing — this was the period where the alleged blast-messaging campaign was doing most of its work.
  • This also explains how many of Bolsonaro’s allies in congress managed to get elected that very weekend despite polls originally favouring others.

Further developments will either confirm or deny these correlations.

The reactions so far

Bolsonaro has denied involvement on the blast campaign, stating: “I have no control if there are businessmen sympathetic towards me doing this. I know it hurts legislation. But I have no control, no way of knowing and acting on it.”

He also took the opportunity to attack his adversary on Twitter: “Voluntary support is something the Worker’s Party doesn’t know and doesn’t accept.”

Luciano Hang said he would sue the newspaper Folha de São Paulo on account of accusations made against him. When questioned about the blast-campaign, Hang said he “doesn’t know what that is.”

WhatsApp said they are banning hundreds of thousands of accounts since the start of Brazilian elections on account of spamming — among the banned accounts was Flávio Bolsonaro (Bolsonaro’s son) who posted about it on Twitter accusing WhatsApp of banning him “out of nowhere.”

*Bolsonaro was stabbed during his campaign and was hospitalised when the first presidential debates took place — given his condition, he was not allowed to leave the hospital, but naturally would have been unable to debate regardless. Now, Bolsonaro is in working condition, having resumed his campaign on social media, giving interviews, and recording live videos regularly. Haddad has offered to debate in an infirmary under medical assistance, but Bolsonaro has stated he will not debate.