"We have the opportunity in this election in Brazil for the first time, here and around the world, to be very prepared to deal with the pitfalls of technology, such as fake news, social bots and macro-targets," said Rodrigo Helcer, CEO of Stilingue, a technology company specialized in artificial intelligence, during the talk "AI and Elections in Brazil” at the Path Festival in São Paulo.
According to Brazil's Federal Communication Department, 49 percent of Brazilians used the internet as a source of information in 2016.
Another study, led by Getúlio Vargas Foundation, analyzed the discussion on Twitter during the TV debate in the last presidential election in 2014. During the first round, 6.29 percent of the interactions on Twitter were made by social bots that were controlled by software that created a massification of posts to manipulate the discussion on social media. During the second round, the proliferation of social bots was even worse. Bots created 11 percent of the posts.
Stilingue was created to monitor social media posts and the media in Portuguese using artificial intelligence (AI). During the elections, marketing and advertising companies will use Stilingue technology to promote candidates and to help manage politicians' reputations.
"AI brings politics closer to voters. Voters will be listened to, more protected and closer to their candidates," Helcer said. “Everything is related to the decentralization of information."
After Trump’s election, Brexit and more recently Cambridge Analytica, Helcer said he understands the challenge in building a positive image. “Being treated as a villain is tied to people's fear of what AI can do. Stilingue works to show that behind artificial intelligence is a real person who has to take responsibility for what technology does."
Rosie: accountability robot
In 2016, three data scientists from Porto Alegre were trying to decide who they would vote for in the municipal elections. They realized that it was difficult to access open data from the cities, so they set out to create a tool to analyze the accountability of congresspeople.
Rosie is a software – and a Twitter profile – that analyzes the reimbursement applications of each one of 513 congressmen. According to government regulations, each official can spend a maximum of about US$15,000 per month on food, plane tickets, fuel and others. Expenses be related to their official duties.
“Rosie looks for unusual expenses -- such as a high price for a meal or three expenses in different states at the same day -- and we have people to check them in-person if necessary,” said Irio Musskopf, one of Rosie’s creators. “We don’t want to look for immoralities but for illegalities.”
Once Rosie identifies a suspicious expense, she posts this information on Twitter. In 2018, the project, called Serenade of Love Operation [after a popular chocolate], will expand to the rest of the country. The goal is to investigate the waiver of bid requirements in Brazil's 100 largest cities.
“There are no open data or publication format for these expenses nationally, so first we had to sort out this problem,” said Musskopf.
With the support of crowdfunding and the nonprofit organization Open Knowledge Brasil, the Rosie project has hired six employees. More than 100 volunteers have also helped with coding. By the end of the year, they estimate they will gather more than 200 gigabytes of city data.
The data from Porto Alegre, where they live, is already collected and published at diario.serenata.ai.
Fighting back with technology
About the challenges of covering this year's Brazilian elections, Musskopf said: “Journalists have to see that a lot of these posts on social media are not real. In Brazil, we have PegaBot, a software that estimates the probability of a profile being a social bot. This can be used by journalists.”
Helcer also stressed the role of technology as a tool for journalists during this election. “I don’t see how a modern journalist can do valuable journalism without the power of technology, and in this case, artificial intelligence.”
The discussions of fake news and their consequences are a reminder of journalists' responsibility and the importance of their credibility in informing the public. New technology is here to help them summarize big data, verify fake news on social media and automate processes. In short, to find a good story.