Between Aug. 16, 2022 and Dec. 12, 2022 five newsrooms—Agência Lupa, Aos Fatos, Projeto Comprova, Estadão Verifica, and Universo Online (UOL)— partnered with Brazil’s top court, which is responsible for organizing all stages of the Brazilian electoral process. Together the partners collected 347,000 anonymous questions and requests for fact-checks from voters throughout six WhatsApp tiplines, and responded to those questions with fact-checks using Meedan’s platform, Check.  

Through this program we used machine learning to uncover big picture trends about the questions people asked and claims they encountered online. The data provides a snapshot of the information landscape within WhatsApp audiences ahead of the elections. Here are five things we found from a preliminary analysis of the data: 

  1. Audience questions about Bolsonaro included topics such as genocide, pedophilia, cannibalism, drug trafficking, and real estate assets. Audience queries about Lula included topics such as thievery, innocence, the closure of churches, the candidate’s position on abortion, and censorship of right wing media. Queries relating to both candidates were most active on Oct. 7, 2022 – a day that WhatsApp promoted voting information tiplines to audiences. 
  2. Common election keywords like Bolsonaro, Lula, vote, and others topped the list of most commonly occurring keywords. The biggest clusters we found included requests about where to vote, how to vote, voter fraud, security of ballots1, and the results of the vote. 
  3. Requests for information peaked the day of the runoff election on Oct. 30, at more than 32,000 queries to the WhatsApp tiplines. Four other single-day peaks also occurred throughout October.
  4.  Following the vote, our data shows a surge in queries about the results, with phrases like resultado (“results”) and quem ganhou (“who won?”) in the content during that period. 
  5. We noted a few claims that users frequently asked our participating partners. In September, for example, audiences queried a piece of misinformation about claims votes would not be counted unless one voted for all races on the ballot. In particular, the versions we saw said don't just vote for the candidate - make sure to vote for their party in all races or your vote won't be counted. After the elections, we also found questions about justifying not voting (justificar, justificar voto, justificativa, justifica) and how to avoid a fine (multa) for voting.

Meedan’s work with partners, including Brazil’s top court, Tribunal Superior Electoral, helped thousands of voters access reliable election information at an unprecedented scale. 

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  1. Online conversations are heavily influenced by news coverage, like the 2022 Supreme Court decision on abortion. The relationship is less clear between big breaking news and specific increases in online misinformation.
  2. The tweets analyzed were a random sample qualitatively coded as “misinformation” or “not misinformation” by two qualitative coders trained in public health and internet studies.
  3. This method used Twitter’s historical search API
  4. The peak was a significant outlier compared to days before it using Grubbs' test for outliers for Chemical Abortion (p<0.2 for the decision; p<0.003 for the leak) and Herbal Abortion (p<0.001 for the decision and leak).
  5. All our searches were case insensitive and could match substrings; so, “revers” matches “reverse”, “reversal”, etc.



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Published on

January 9, 2023