A digital information monitoring app created by researchers at the Federal University of Minas Gerais has revealed that soon after the budgetary cuts for universities were announced late last month, a wave of images mocking the institutions flooded WhatsApp.
These images, all of which contained sexual content, became some of the most shared by WhatsApp users in recent days. They featured nude young people or dissertation cover pages supposedly defending the federal universities. Allusions to homosexual themes were also frequent.
"It was a surprise," said Fabrício Benevenuto, an associate professor of computer science at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, and creator of the WhatsApp Monitor. "I went to look at the monitor, and these images appeared out of nowhere."
The system monitors more than 500 public WhatsApp groups through the app—in general, those that people can subscribe to through on sites and other social media sites. The researchers use a half a dozen cell phones to enter the groups and manually collect information about what is being most shared. To avoid privacy risks to the participants in the group, researchers never store the numbers in the groups.
Benevenuto has managed this work since the 2018 elections, which were dominated by the circulation of false news through WhatsApp.
"Politically, these groups seemed a bit demobilized after the election, but we noticed an increase in this kind of message and its sharing, even if it is not even close to what happened last year," says Benevenuto.
Translated by Kiratiana Freelon