SAO PAULO — Charges of fake news are heating up the presidential race ahead of Brazil's Oct. 28 runoff, with the center-left candidate on Tuesday accusing his rival's campaign of defaming him with false stories on social media and messaging apps.
A fact-checking group said that Fernando Haddad has been targeted by a wave of false allegations, some accusing him of planning to shut down churches and distribute textbooks teaching children to be gay.
Haddad blamed his adversary, far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro, for planting or failing to condemn the falsehoods.
"The lies come from him (Bolsonaro), so he will not accept any ethical commitment. He will continue to slander, insult," Haddad said. He said his campaign had managed to have 33 videos removed from social media sites. "One had 3 million views when it was removed. We try to stop it, but people watch them."
Haddad on Monday asked Bolsonaro to jointly sign a commitment against spreading fake news before the runoff, but Bolsonaro rejected the idea, calling Haddad "a scoundrel" in a Twitter post.
Haddad said Tuesday the refusal was "a proof of dishonesty."
Bolsonaro, a former army captain, won Sunday's first round of voting with 46 percent. Former Sao Paulo Mayor Haddad, who was hand-picked by jailed former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to represent the Workers' Party, came second with 29 percent.
Bolsonaro's campaign had very little time on TV, so it focused its efforts on social media and messaging apps like WhatsApp, whose users exchange information directly in an encrypted format, unlike more public platforms.
In Brazil more than 120 million people use WhatsApp, making Latin America's largest country home to nearly one in 10 users worldwide.
A fact-check project by TV Globo found a recent false allegation that Haddad's running mate Manuela D'Avila wants to end Christian holidays in Brazil. Another shows what appears to be a fraudulent result in a voting machine giving a large advantage to the Workers' Party candidate. A third falsely claims U.S. President Donald Trump endorsed Bolsonaro.
The Associated Press follows five WhatsApp groups of Bolsonaro supporters. There is very little debate, but constant sharing of memes, news stories, videos and audios that are sometimes true but very often manipulated.
Later in an interview with TV Band, Bolsonaro said he wants to fight false news against him in Brazil's northeast, without giving further details.
Bolsonaro said he regretted the killing of a Haddad voter in Salvador by one of his supporters but he called it "an isolated incident." He said he does not approve of violence against adversaries, but has no means to control what his voters do.
"I was the one who got stabbed. If someone wears a shirt of mine and is excessive, what do I have to do with it?" Bolsonaro asked. The far-right candidate was attacked on Sept.6, went through two abdominal surgeries and only left the hospital one week before the first-round vote.