Minister warns of “industrial-scale” organized disinformation campaign, hindering disaster efforts

“After 10 days of watching the people of Rio Grande do Sul facing the wrath of nature, I confess that I’ve lost my patience with liars,” says the new special minister for reconstruction of Rio Grande do Sul, Paulo Pimenta.

By Paulo Pimenta

On the night marking ten days since the greatest meteorological disaster in the history of my home state, I stayed up responding to numerous messages of concern. Dozens of people were sending me a video on their phones in which I was supposedly lynched at night during a visit to a shelter. Friends, colleagues, and family were asking if I was okay, if I needed help. The video is yet another episode of an organized disinformation strategy happening in Rio Grande do Sul.
The footage is from a union assembly in CearĂ¡, where someone who isn’t me is the target of violence. However, the messages not only implied that the video was current and involved me but also claimed that I was receiving the “welcome I deserved.” Lying is nothing new; lies didn’t start with WhatsApp, but it is on social media that the phenomenon of industrial-scale lie production emerges, with coordinated actions and methods to misinform.

Brazilian researcher David Nemer, who teaches at the University of Virginia in the United States, states that he hasn’t seen such a massive disinformation campaign since the 2018 elections. What the researcher detects, I experience every day: hours of my day are spent debunking some new story invented to delegitimize the actions of the roughly 20,000 public servants, both civilian and military, who have already rescued over 60,000 people and 6,000 animals.

It’s hard to understand that in such a moment of fragility, people hide behind their screens producing content they know to be false for some kind of political or economic gain. That’s why I’m outraged. That’s why, during the Situation Room meeting, I said they should arrest those who are deliberately producing these strategic lies to misinform people. That’s why I reported to the Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Police to investigate these people as criminals.

There was and will be no censorship from the Secretary of Communication or the government of President Lula. Freedom of expression is a pillar of democracy that we strive to maintain and will continue to do so. It is unacceptable that industrial lies, which hinder the work of rescue, restoration, and reconstruction in Rio Grande do Sul, go unpunished. What we seek is justice.