The dissemination of fake news via Whatsapp has been a concern in other elections too, namely Brazil.
Spaniards head to the polls for general elections Sunday, however, there are growing concerns over misinformation. One study claims that nearly 10 million voters have consumed right wing fake news via Whatsapp.
A recent study by campaigning site Avaaz provided evidence of the mass dissemination of inaccurate stories, which were overwhelmingly right wing. The study looked at just 14 days (April 11-24) at the height of Spain’s electoral campaign.
The stories most widely circulated were fake reports, including a story that Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez had signed a secret treaty for Catalan Independence, and another claiming that migrants in Spain received large amounts of money from the state.
The study concluded that 43 percent of these messages were ‘anti-left’, 14% were anti-migrant, 10% were homophobic, such as one widely shared false story that Manuela Carmena, the leftist mayor of Madrid, had plans to designate areas of the city as dedicated to LGBT sexual encounters.
Christoph Schott, campaign director at Avaaz said, “This report is a wake up call for Spanish voters. Whatsapp is a wonderful tool for connecting friends and family, but it is becoming the Dark Web of social media, where lies, racism and hate are spread.”
Controlling misinformation is a difficult challenge, one source close to Whatsapp argued; “Everything (fake content) is all on the basis of suspicion, it is impossible to know whether or not someone is sharing fake content.” Avaaz recommended a limit on forwarding messages and a button for users to easily report fake news.
On the other side, however, large tech firms have also been accused of censorship in the name of cracking down on fake news. YouTube recently banned Iranian sources such as HispanTV.
The dissemination of fake news via Whatsapp has been a concern in other elections too, namely Brazil. There, Whatsapp was used to drum up support for Bolsonaro with false information, for example, one widely shared story during the campaign claimed that if the Workers Party candidate Fernando Haddad were to win, all children over the age of 5 would be 'state owned.'