As Brazil mobilized to fight COVID-19 in the first year of the pandemic, pages allied with President Jair Bolsonaro and known for disseminating false content gained traction, according to a study by Universidade Positivo. At the height of interactions, in May 2020, 27 profiles that spread fake news had 14 million likes and shares. Among them is the Terça Livre channel, whose owner, Allan dos Santos, is being investigated by the STF in the Fake News Inquiry.
The Universidade Positivo study was based on investigations carried out by the Fake News’ CPMI — Joint Parliamentary Investigation Commission — created by Congress in 2019 to investigate cases of mass shooting of false news during the 2018 election campaign, especially those that benefited the coalition of then-candidate Jair Bolsonaro.
The Universidade Positivo survey presents an analysis of 27 profiles that spread rumors on Facebook between 2010 and 2020; it maps interactions, like likes and shares, from the pages. Some of the top accounts cited are from supporters of Bolsonaro, like the channel Free Tuesday and the page Toothless Alligator.
Profiles that publicize pro-Bolsonaro content and misinformation about masks, pandemics and early treatment, had 257 million interactions on Facebook in 10 years.
In addition, the researchers identified that the pages produced 206.6 thousand posts between 2010 and 2020. The monitoring was carried out using the tool CrowdTangle, which tracks links and interactions not only on Facebook but also on Twitter.
Pages grew a year before Dilma’s impeachment
Researchers observed an increase in interactions from fake news pages a year before the impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff (PT).
As of 2015, these profiles grew in number of posts and engagement until 2018 — the year of Presidential elections — when together they surpassed 9 million likes and shares between September and October of that year.
The 27 profiles analyzed started to make 3,600 posts per month, on average. But it was in May 2020 that fake news more boomed: the pages totaled 14 million interactions in the month, in the midst of a pandemic — in the same period, they reached an average of 5,000 posts per month.
The research coordinator, Eduardo Faria Silva, tells the Techblog that the data can point to a coordinated movement of pages that spread lies to grow in networks after 2015:
“Everything indicates that there is a structured work that allows the creation of content on these pages. When you see a pattern of growth of a particular theme coming from different pages, there can be a common orientation of how to act in networks — a pattern of communication. This is one of the hypotheses of the study.”
Eduardo points out that shares and likes are the main forms of communication between the pages of fake news and readers: almost 88% of interactions on profiles are shares or reacts on facebook.
Free Tuesday is the fastest growing PocketNarist portal
From the first clipping of 27 profiles, the study brings an in-depth analysis of six of the main pages that spread fake news. Among them is the channel Free Tuesday, from the blogger Allan dos Santos. He is being investigated in two separate investigations in progress in the Federal Court of Justice (STF).
Despite investigations by the Supreme and Federal Police, this was the channel for fake news which grew the most on Facebook between 2017 and 2020.
In the first year of the pandemic, the Allan dos Santos it became the Pocket Narist channel with the most posts out of the six pages analyzed; O Free Tuesday came close to hitting the 8 million interactions mark. Another profile highlighted in the survey is the religious and right-wing portal, the Gospel Prime.
In addition to the political nature, the research analyzes other pages that spread rumors in different areas, such as health or science.
Accounts like the earth planners page Flat Earth – Flat Earth, and nutrition, called naturally healthy, grew after the first year of Bolsonaro’s term. They attract an audience similar to the Free Tuesday, according to researchers.
“It is possible to mention in the report that the disinformation strategy focuses on different languages to attract different audiences, or wants to draw the attention of the same people even with different ways of communicating with them”, says Eduardo, who is also a professor at the Masters. in Law at Universidade Positivo.
After the opening of Inquiry No. 4,871, better known as Fake News Survey, by the STF, the pocketbook pages are starting to lose steam in the networks. The volume of likes, shares and comments dropped, along with the number of posts made per month. This reached profiles like Terça Livre.