Fake news agitated by Bolsonarism makes it difficult to care for those affected by the floods in Brazil

Fake news agitated by Bolsonarism makes it difficult to care for those affected by the floods in Brazil
Fake news agitated by Bolsonarism makes it difficult to care for those affected by the floods in Brazil

Operations to care for those affected by the devastating floods in southern Brazil have encountered an unexpected and fierce enemy. Added to the difficulties imposed by non-stop rain, cold, blocked roads, etc., is a wave of fake news agitated by prominent Bolsonaro supporters that hinders the efforts of public power agents to care for those affected, distribute aid or inhibit donations. The federal government, the main target of the disinformation campaign, has denounced some publications and the Federal Police has opened an investigation.

Brazil is one of the countries in the world where citizens spend the most hours surfing the Internet to communicate, entertain themselves or obtain information.

The environmental disaster in Rio Grande do Sul, the most serious that Brazil has suffered in decades due to the number of people and territory affected, is far from subsiding. The water has risen again to alarming levels this Tuesday and local authorities are reinforcing the call for no one to return to their homes for now. The dead now total 147 people and there are 125 more people missing in addition to thousands in shelters.

Denials of falsehoods by authorities and citizens have been coexisting for days on social networks with calls to donate goods or money to care for the two million people affected by the storm of torrential rains in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, which already lasts two weeks. Here, a good part of the population gets their information mainly through WhatsApp and even more so in exceptional circumstances like the current ones, in which hundreds of thousands of people had to go out with what they were wearing while the rivers overflowed and the water rose unstoppably inside their homes.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has shown on several occasions during this crisis his exasperation with a phenomenon that, in addition to harming him politically, seriously erodes confidence in public power and generates hostility on the ground towards rescue teams and the press.

This is how the Brazilian president complained on Monday during an appearance in Brasilia: “There are many people, volunteers, military personnel, who work hard to help, and there are people who continue selling lies, continue selling misfortunes, continue inventing stories. “We have to be very careful not to allow these cheap provocateurs, these people who always lie, who always make fake news, to have advantages.” This same Tuesday, the Government announced that it is looking for volunteers to create a network for the digital offensive against fake news and misinformation.

Some of the lies that are happily circulated are truly alarming. Neither have they found 2,000 bodies in the city of Canoas, (which is one of the most affected), nor have they released 2,000 prisoners from a flooded prison, journalist Renato Souza warned in X.

Other falsehoods follow the classic conspiracy theory pattern. An account reported by the government’s Communication Secretariat claims, falsely, that Lula’s Government intends to confiscate flooded homes, create exclusion zones and impose a “climate confinement” to monitor the victims, reports the newspaper O Globo. The account in question has 35,000 followers, but others accused of misinforming exceed one million.

The Bolsonaro world—politicians, deputies and communicators—which, like its far-right international peers, has a powerful social media machine, has been in effervescence since the beginning of this catastrophe. They have made an effort to spread the falsehood that the federal government has not lifted a finger for the gauchos (the residents of Rio Grande do Sul, a rich southern state, which in 2022 voted for Jair Bolsonaro in the presidential elections). The reality is that President Lula has announced aid worth 9 billion euros, activated his ministers immediately, deployed the military and this Wednesday he hopes to visit the affected area for the third time. The deputy with the most votes in Brazil in 2022, the twenty-something Bolsonaro and transphobe Nikolas Ferreira, insists that “from the Government we cannot expect batteries or watches to arrive.”

Among the aid announced today, 1.1 billion dollars from the BRICS bank and another 740 million from the Development Bank of Latin America and the Caribbean.

For Communication professor Dione Moura, from the University of Brasilia, fake news campaigns have generated “oceans of misinformation aimed at destabilizing political and institutional forces, causing disproportionate chaos and increasing pain,” as she writes in an article in the Brazilian Post along with two colleagues. “As long as deputies and senators, councilors, mayors and governors are more concerned with creating narratives for their electoral bases on social networks than with managing crises, they will be co-responsible for this and the next tragedies that may occur. If the biodiversity, conservation and sustainable economy agendas are not prioritized, catastrophes will multiply,” they warn.

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