Brazil urges WhatsApp to delay new tool ahead of national elections

Prosecutors fear ‘Communities’ tool could drive spread of fake news during election year.

Brazil urges WhatsApp to delay new tool ahead of national elections

Brazilian authorities urged messaging platform WhatsApp to hold back the launch of a new "Communities” tool Friday until elections are held in October.

The new feature would permit communications to be sent to 2,560 people simultaneously.

Sao Paulo prosecutors argued in a letter sent to the company that the expansion of two non-application message groups could drive the spread of fake news during the elections, counteracting measures taken by the company, according to Globo news outlet.

“In recent years, there has been a growth or flow of misinformation about the Brazilian democratic institutions, especially about the voting system used in the country,” they said.

Prosecutors argued that the tool could question the nature of institutions and the reliability of results at the ballot boxes, according to their investigations.

With the increased potential for users to quickly share content with a high number of others, prosecutors fear that it could increase the flow of disinformation, calling into question the institutions and integrity of Brazil's voting system and placing the "country's democratic stability at risk,” according to news website, Poder360.

The Federal Public Ministry (MPF) Regional Attorney 's Office in Sao Paulo recommended to WhatsApp that the company implement the "Communities" functionality in Brazil from January 2023, according to Globo.

WhatsApp remains popular for supporters of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro who have used the platform to mobilize and communicate messages.

Bolsonaro is currently campaigning for re-election in October, although most polls suggest he is behind former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in what experts have labeled Brazil's most polarized elections in decades.

In April, the messaging platform pushed back the launch of the new tool until after an anticipated second-round run-off expected in late October.

But prosecutors argued that potential disinformation could generate serious risks and the platform's end-to-end encryption means that communications cannot be monitored or moderated.

WhatsApp has insisted it will continue to investigate the most suitable moment to launch the new tool and will reply to the request from authorities.

In Brazil, around 99% of smartphones use the messaging platform, according to authorities.