How Bots Spread a Viral Disinformation Video Prior to the 2022 Brazilian Presidential Election
An Investigative Report – April 2023
Nisos investigators discovered a scheme to spread disinformation in support of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonoaro leading up to the October 2022 Brazil presidential election. This effort involved a viral YouTube Short video, a coordinated network of inauthentic users on Twitter, and bot social media accounts. Nisos identified a Brazilian political marketer who likely aided in the editing and proliferation of the disinformation video.
Due to the viral video’s popularity and social reach to approximately 10 million users, Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court fact-checked the video and ultimately refuted it. Although the TSE refuted the validity of the video, the initial inauthentic users and bot accounts continued to share it, which likely was deliberate to support former President Bolsonaro’s claims of ballot fraud. The spread of disinformation through a short, non-contextual video is a common tactic to influence impressionable social media users, in this case potentially harming an election process. YouTube removed all identified versions of the observed content.
Additionally, a review of the image thumbnail from the YouTube Short video and the method in which they were shared revealed a coordinated inauthentic network of 38 Twitter accounts. These accounts displayed bot-like and inauthentic characteristics, including the use of emojis, auto assigned Twitter handles, and Generative Adversarial Network (GAN) profile photos. Since the election, 17 of the 38 accounts have been suspended, deleted, or gone inactive, likely indicating they had been created specifically for election influence. Further, Nisos investigators identified that one of the 38 accounts posted calls-to-action leading up to the uprising against Brazilian government institutions in January 2023.
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