Brazil’s leftist presidential candidate on Thursday accused his far-right rival Jair Bolsonaro of illegal dirty tricks by hiring firms to spread lies through bulk messages via WhatsApp.
“My adversary is committing an electoral crime to gain an advantage,” Worker’s Party candidate Fernando Haddad tweeted, adding that he was going to lodge a complaint with the police and election officials.
The leftist candidate was responding to a report in Brazil’s Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper that it had discovered contracts worth up to $3.2 million for companies to send out millions of messages on the popular smartphone app WhatsApp attacking Mr Haddad.
The tactic, which the paper said was scheduled to start over the weekend – about one week ahead of the October 28 vote – breaks Brazilian electoral law because it amounts to illegal campaign financing.
“We have identified a campaign of slander and defamation via WhatsApp and, given the mass of messages, we know that there was dirty money behind it, because it wasn’t registered with the Supreme Electoral Tribunal,” Mr Haddad told a media conference in Sao Paulo.
Mr Bolsonaro’s lawyer, Tiago Ayres, told the financial daily Valor there was no evidence of any connection between the companies mentioned by Folha de Sao Paulo and Bolsonaro’s campaign.
Mr Bolsonaro himself had no immediate reaction to the allegations.
WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, which has come under scrutiny over its failure to clamp down on shady online influence campaigns during the 2016 US presidential election and Britain’s Brexit referendum.
There are around 120 million WhatsApp users in Brazil, whose population is 210 million.
Mr Haddad, trailing far behind Mr Bolsonaro ahead of the run-off election, has complained frequently that he was the target of false social media information campaigns.
Mr Bolsonaro has proved himself an adept user of online platforms, largely spurning traditional media outlets and debates in favour of reaching out to millions of followers on his Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts.
He easily won the first round of the elections on October 7.
The most recent major poll credits him with 59 percent support for the run-off vote against 41 percent for Mr Haddad.