Brazil election court: We can nullify election winners who spread fake news

Rio de Janeiro, Jun 7 (EFE).- The president of Brazil’s Superior Electoral Tribunal, Edison Fachin, warned Tuesday that the country’s top election authority has tools enabling it to strip election winners of their victories in the October elections if it is proven that they distributed fake news.

Fachin said at a virtual press conference with foreign correspondents in Brazil that spreading false information about the upcoming presidential, regional and legislative elections is one of the court’s big concerns and that it has launched an intense campaign to combat fake news but is not ruling out nullifying the wins of those found to have engaged in the practice.

“We are hugely concerned about the spread of disinformation, especially on the social networks. The court is attentive (to this) and we’ve already adopted some preventive measures with the view that distorted information is (best) fought with correct information,” he said.

“But, if it’s necessary to get to the point of sanctioning some behaviors, the court will not refuse to exercise its punitive authority,” he warned.

Despite the fact that Fachin did not name any candidate in particular, currently there are cases before various courts regarding the spreading of fake news in which President Jair Bolsonaro is being investigated. The ultrarightist leader has repeated on various occasions, without providing any proof, that Brazil’s electronic voting system is susceptible to fraud.

The head of the electoral court noted that the Electoral Law characterizes spreading fake news as a crime that can trigger the sanctioning of election winners who perpetrate it by divesting them of the offices they have won.

“When, as per its jurisdictional function, the court receives a complaint and it is demonstrated that a specific candidate engaged in deeds that he knew were false, he will be subject to the electoral code rule characterizing that conduct as a crime and this can result in the loss of his office as punishment,” Fachin warned.

“The court receives the complaint, opens the process, listens to the defense and later makes a judgment, just as was done last year with legislators who engaged in that practice and lost their offices after their elections were declared null and void,” he said.

Fachin added that, so as not to get to that point, the court has adopted preventive measures and is heading a campaign to combat disinformation that includes strategic alliances with political parties, digital media outlets, social networks and even religious leaders.

“We launched an intensive and extensive program to combat disinformation that involves a collection of agreements with about 100 entities, including digital media outlets and social networks that have adopted policies of integrity without threatening the right to freedom of expression,” he said.

Fachin noted that on Monday he met with representatives of the Telegram online platform, which was one of the latest social networks to join the election court’s campaign and is one of the platforms creating the most concern.

“We’re discussing integrity measures with the Telegram vice president. It was one of the last platforms to join but the results obtained to date are significant,” he said.

According to Fachin, the most serious thing in a disinformation campaign is when attacks on the electoral system are used as a way to attack democracy itself.

“The attacks on the electoral process within that disinformation environment concern us. But we’re prepared to mitigate those effects. Our aim is to explain to the public that we’re the institutional arbiters for monitoring compliance with the rules and that we’re not in the corner of any candidate,” he said.

Fachin said that the attacks on election authorities are not a phenomenon that is restricted to Brazil, noting that similar attacks have been mounted in recent elections in the United States, Bolivia and Peru and are being currently undertaken in Mexico and Colombia, which are in the final legs of election campaigns.

EFE cm/ed/rrt/bp

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