“We want the source code,” supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro shouted during the invasion of the three-power headquarters in Brasilia. The phrase reflects the central role of disinformation in the January 8 attack: Not only was the source code for electronic voting machines made available a year before the election, but the electoral process relies on other vetting mechanisms.
However, this claim prompted thousands of bolsonarians to invade and destroy the Palacio do Planalto, Congress and Supreme Federal Court (STF) buildings last Sunday.
For Ivan Paganotti, PhD in Communication Sciences and professor at Methodist University in São Paulo, the publication of false claims was an important element in justifying this type of attack.
“The disinformation platforms have been important to be able to bring together people who have used this element as justification to try to put a touch of legitimacy, with many quotes, around these actions,” he told AFP.
In addition to misinformation about the source code, the professor also highlights other baseless accusations of fraud and “fanciful readings” on Article 142 of the Constitution, a subject already verified by the AFP Verification Service.
The claim seen on the poster in Brasilia stems from the false claim that the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) will keep the source code of electronic voting machines “secret” from the community so as not to reveal changes that could lead to alleged electoral fraud in the election won by Luis Inacio Lula Da Silva in October last year.
“It is important to consider that this misinformation could be an element of justification for trends that were already in place, and any other push would suffice,” he wonders.
Therefore, meaningless requests are not uncommon, such as the requirements for the jar source code.
“Disinformation is a tool of rationalization without much rationality,” he adds.
The professor points out that the production and dissemination of fake news in Brazil is part of an efficient and fragmented network, whose groups are spread across different platforms and have different themes and audience profiles. Some individuals are responsible for connecting different channels, merging contents and expanding their reach.
In addition, the question about the credibility of the elections resonated with some institutions and political parties.
In November 2022, the Liberal Party, led by former President Bolsonaro, demanded that votes counted in 280,000 ballot boxes be annulled in the second round, justifying the lack of the serial number on some equipment – which was also verified by AFP. .
“We have documents that showed that no evidence of fraud was found, but then some of the leadership stated that this does not mean that there can be no fraud,” Paganotti recalls, who adds: “This type of argument is very problematic and has been advanced. These questions, because people choose information that fits their beliefs.
Open source code
The source code is the set of files that contain the instructions for what to operate the electronic voting machine. In October 2021, it was opened by the TSE so that people and supervisory bodies could check it to ensure that the polls’ programming had not changed.
“The source code for ballot boxes is provided and inspected at specified times and in a TSE-controlled environment. It is not widely available code,” Lucas Lago explained to AFP. From two reports on the Brazilian electoral system.
In this way, the code is made available to so-called supervisory entities, which include the armed forces, political parties and members of civil society, such as academics.
Although Lago points out that access to this code could be improved, the idea that code is “hidden” is “generally incorrect”.
In 2017, Professor Paulo Matias, from the Department of Computing at the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar), examined the source code of ballot boxes during a public security test.
“I didn’t find anything that could indicate a ‘fraud code’. We identified vulnerabilities, which were promptly mitigated or patched by TSE,” Matthias told AFP.
In addition to source code checking, the Brazilian electoral process relies on other audit and compliance mechanisms.
Among the most important are the testing of the integrity of the ballot boxes, which is carried out in parallel with the actual voting, and the issuance of ballot box flyers by electronic equipment, which allows the vote totals to be examined independently of the TSE.
Matias concluded that “to date, the Brazilian community of researchers in the field of electronic voting has not found any plausible allegation” of fraud.
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