To Hell with The Truth

Support for false statements had seven times more interactions on social media

A former employee of a mass mailing agency via WhatsApp was summoned on Tuesday (11) to testify in the parliamentary committee that investigates the spread of false news in the election.

Hans River do Nascimento was the source of a Folha report, published in December 2018, about the fraudulent use of names and CPFs in messages blasts by the application. In front of deputies and senators, Hans River offered false information and made accusations against one of the authors of the article, Patrícia Campos Mello.

The reporter gathered evidence - screenshots of conversations, audios, and documents sent by the attacker - and countered point-by-point the lies reproduced on social media.

Unmasked the lie, unlike expected, there was no retreat in the posts. What we saw on social media was an enormous willingness to deny the evidence in a massive herd movement towards disinformation.

The tendency to believe only in what is convenient - the so-called confirmation bias prevailed, an increasingly relevant concept in journalism.

An exclusive survey by the data analysis company Bites makes this clear.

Bites analyzed posts by federal deputies in their official profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

Between Tuesday afternoon (11) and 18:00 on Friday (14), deputies published 9,644 posts, reaching 11.7 million interactions (including likes, retweets, comments, and shares).

Three issues stood out, all in some way linked to the government or the Bolsonaro family: the death of militiaman Adriano da Nóbrega, the speech of Minister Paulo Guedes about trips by domestic workers to Disney and Hans River's "show."

Although in number of posts the prejudices distilled by Guedes were ahead (372 posts against 187 of the commission and 122 of the militiaman), Hans River's performance was unbeatable in interactions: 873,179 interactions in the official networks of deputies, or the equivalent of 7 % of the total for the period (against 460,533 for Guedes and 291,868 for the militiaman).

In defense of the Folha journalist, 37 deputies published 127 posts with 113,757 interactions - defense made by the PT and other close lawmakers, with some exceptions.

In the field of supporters of Hans River's statements against the Folha reporter, only seven deputies produced 60 posts that reached an astonishing 759,422 interactions, or almost seven times more than the defense movement.

Of the 60 publications of the seven deputies, 23 came from Eduardo Bolsonaro's account. Alone, the president's son, reached 50% of interactions against the journalist.

Performances such as those made by Hans River reinforce convictions and encourage the virtual troop to continue the abusive process on social media. There is nothing to stop them because the truth - and here I am not talking about big philosophical questions, but about what happened or not - does not matter.

Behind this, there is a method. Confusion is set up to create an environment in which everything becomes a version, and everyone can choose their own. And if something goes wrong, there is always the possibility of denying it was said or that there was a misinterpretation of the facts.

Imagem mostra um iceberg apenas com a ponta para fora d'água e um navio se aproximando dele

The hard thing is that, sometimes, the press contributes to push the truth into the swamp.

In the "Trends / Debates" section of last Saturday (8), the newspaper decided to ask if intelligent design, seen as a part of creationism, would be a valid scientific theory.

As one reader said, in the name of a supposed journalistic balance, the newspaper has put up for discussion — and on an equal footing — centuries of scientific findings. Useful to the complex environment or not?

The press cannot be confused with social media, contributing to putting the truth in check - which it does when it treats science as a version in dispute with creationism. A good report would have accounted for the reader's legitimate curiosity for the topic.

Everything can become a matter of opinion: the facts that the report on mass shootings found, flat-earther, or the effectiveness of vaccines.

In the end, both Hans River's "show" and the "debate" between science and creationism contribute to information wars and fuel strategies for disseminating misconceptions.

In the second case, that of the false debate, the press cannot allow itself to be carried away by controversies that may even bring an audience, but, in a longer-term, compromise credibility.

As for virtual militias, journalism will never help them. Therefore, one must spend energy on those who seek to understand the facts to reach their own conclusions.

Folha, on the other hand, needs to oppose the lie, whatever it may be, as emphatically as it did last week.

Flavia Lima

Reporter specializing in economics, she graduated in social sciences from USP and in law from Mackenzie. She has been the ombudsman for Folha since May 2019.