A Jair Bolsonaro victory seems all but sealed as Brazil's second and final round of presidential elections takes place on October 28.

Bolsonaro has a far-right agenda, a penchant for rhetoric that's misogynistic, racist and threatening, and a campaign that's been powered by social media, mainly the country's pre-eminent messaging platform WhatsApp.

According to an investigation published in Brazil's most widely read newspaper, Folha De Sao Paulo – Bolsonaro's WhatsApp offensive has been secretly boosted by several unnamed corporations.

Those paid digital marketing firms, experts at some of the dark arts of the web, a total of $3.2m to push pro-Bolsonaro messaging - attacking his opponent Fernando Haddad with stories, many of which were made up.

Under Brazilian electoral law, such undisclosed corporate donations to a political campaign are illegal.

But Bolsonaro called Folha de Sao Paulo's investigation "fake news".

"We ran a full fact check on this story, with sources who deal directly with the agencies responsible for sending these messages," explains Folha de Sao Paulo's assistant managing editor, Uira Machado. "This has been subverting the campaign. Bolsonaro has denied all accusations. After all, if he admitted any wrongdoing, he would be admitting to an electoral crime."

Bolsonaro is not a fan of the mainstream media. But he's got some news outlets on his side, too - most notably Record TV, a network owned by billionaire bishop Edir Macedo, head of one of Brazil's biggest evangelical churches.

Journalists at Record have been ordered to keep their coverage of Bolsonaro positive and to report on his leftist opponent, Fernando Haddad, either negatively or neutrally.

Fact checkers are working overtime, according to Sergio Ludtke, executive director of Comprova. "It's been brutal. The volume is huge. We have 24 media outlets reproducing our fact-checking work. TV channels, radio stations, newspapers and websites. We've managed to draw attention to the problem, but we're under no illusions that we can stop it and make the truth overcome all the lies that are being told."

In a campaign rife with misinformation, social media companies have been slow to react. Over the past three months, Facebook has taken down hundreds of accounts and pages in what it called "a coordinated network" built for "sowing division and spreading misinformation." These are measures that appear to be too little and, in the case this election, too late.

"Fake news appeals to people's emotions," points out Marina Atoji, executive manager of Abraji. "So, if the content you receive is reinforcing your existing beliefs, if it makes you feel confident that you are right, you are more inclined to believe it than something that contests or challenges your beliefs."

Contributors
Leandro Demori - Executive editor, The Intercept Brasil
Sergio Ludtke - Executive director, Comprova
Marina Atoji - Executive manager, Abraji
Uira Machado - Assistant managing editor, Folha de Sao Paulo

Source: Al Jazeera News