Bloomberg — Brazil’s presidential race took a bizarre turn this week as leftist challenger Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and incumbent Jair Bolsonaro were targeted on social media by false claims of Satanism, Freemasonry -- and even cannibalism.
So great was the flood of disinformation, that Lula, 76, posted a five-point statement on Facebook saying that he had not, in fact, cut a deal with the devil nor had he spoken with Satan. He later participated in an event with Franciscan friars. Bolsonaro, meanwhile, attended on Saturday the country’s largest religious festival, a Catholic celebration known as “Cirio de Nazare” in Belem, capital of the northern state of Para.
Earlier in the week, a series of viral videos and untrue political propaganda sought to cast doubt on each candidates’ faith after the first round of elections on Oct. 2. Both men tout their Christian beliefs, but Bolsonaro, 67, has staked much of his re-election bid on securing the backing of evangelical voters.
About half of Brazil identifies as Catholic, though some estimates now place Pentecostals as the majority. Their support is sure to be crucial to both candidates as they stump ahead of the Oct. 30 presidential runoff.
On Tuesday, a video from 2017 of then-congressman Bolsonaro speaking at a Masonic lodge resurfaced and was widely circulated online. It was interpreted as an attempt to weaken the president’s standing with evangelicals, many of whom consider Freemasonry anathema to their beliefs.
A separate video from a 2016 interview also circulated on social media, with comments taken out of context from the president saying he would be willing to join in an indigenous tribe’s ritual of eating human meat.
The reaction on Twitter was fast: “Bolsonaro canibal” and “maçonaro,” a play with the word “mason” and the president’s last name, were trending in Brazil this week.
Bolsonaro pushed back on criticism of the appearance at the lodge, calling it a “fuss.” His communications minister furthered the mudslinging, though, sharing a video from an influencer and purported Satanist backing Lula.
After requests from Lula’s Workers’ Party, Brazil’s electoral authority ordered social media networks on Wednesday to remove content that falsely associate the 76-year-old candidate with Satanism or face fines.
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