MediaLab CIES-IUL, with the support of DRI, examines online disinformation during the 2019 parliamentary elections in Portugal in this new report.
The reports reviews disinformation found in public Facebook pages and groups, as well as public groups on WhatsApp.
The report notes that a number of Facebook pages and public groups with significant reach spread political disinformation, mostly aimed at the incumbent socialist party (Partido Socialista) and a small environmental party. Key findings from 6 September to 5 October include:
- Facebook pages were more active in spreading false news and narratives while public groups were more prolific in publishing and spreading that kind of content. Pages’ disinformation content is more subtle and engaging, while the groups include more amateur and explicit disinformation.
- Two-thirds of the content published or shared in the monitored pages and groups during the electoral period was of a disinformative nature. The authors cannot judge if these pages had an impact on voters’ decisions.
- Recycling of old news as actual news was identified as the most common technique. The second most used technique were unfounded or unsubstantiated accusations, mostly directed to politicians or major corporate leaders.
- During this period, two Facebook pages – Direita Política and Mário Gonçalves – stood out as the most influential in spreading disinformative content. Among the public Facebook groups monitored, the group Grupo de Apoio ao Juiz Carlos Alexandre was by far the most influential.
- In the monitored pages, alternative media were the most common source of information, contrary to the groups, where established media were dominant. Even then, their news content was often subject to some form of interpretative manipulation converting its initial neutral formulation into a more partisan one.
- No disinformation was detected in the approximately 30,000 monitored posts in the 31 public WhatsApp groups that included political content.
This research was conducted by MediaLab CIES-IUL, a research group inside ISCTE-IUL, with support from Democracy Reporting International. The findings were also published in collaboration with Diário de Notícias. In January 2020, a follow-up report will include further analysis on this topic.