Editor’s note: Far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro won the first round of Brazil’s presidential election with 46 percent of the vote. A runoff will be held on Oct. 28.
The growth of Bolsonarian fascism in the final stretch of the election campaign, turbo charged by an avalanche of fake news disseminated on the internet, is not surprising. It is an old tactic developed by American and British intelligence agencies, with the goal of manipulating public opinion and influencing political processes and elections. It was used in the Ukraine, in the Arab Spring and in Brazil during 2013.
There is science behind this manipulation.
Some people think that elections are won or lost only in rigorously rational debates about policies and proposals. But things don’t really work that way. In reality, as Emory University Psychology Professor Drew Weston says in his book “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation”, feelings are commonly more decisive in defining the vote.
Weston says that, based on recent studies in neuroscience on the theme, contrary to what is commonly understood, the human brain makes decisions mainly based on emotions. The voters strongly base their choices on emotional perceptions about parties and candidates. Rational analysis and empirical data normally plays a secondary role in this process.
This is why there is great manipulative power in the production of information with strong emotional content and fake news.
The documents revealed by Edward Snowden prove that the US and UK intelligence services have specialized and sophisticated departments that are dedicated to manipulating information that circulates on the internet to change the direction of public opinion. For example, the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), a British intelligence agency, has a mission and scope that includes the use of “dirty tricks” to destroy, negate, degrade and run over its enemies.
The tactics are, in short: 1) To disseminate all kinds of false information on the internet to destroy the reputation of its targets; and 2) Use social sciences and other psycho-social techniques to manipulate the online discourse and activism, with the goal of generating desirable results.
But this isn’t just any type of information.