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SAO PAULO – The runoff race for Brazil's presidency is heating up with a battle over fake news. The center-left contender on Tuesday accused his far-right rival's campaign of defaming him with false stories on social media and messaging apps.
Independent fact checkers say 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.
He blamed his adversary, Jair Bolsonaro, of 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 Oct. 28 runoff, but Bolsonaro rejected the idea, calling Haddad "a scoundrel" in a Twitter post.
Haddad said Tuesday the refusal was "a proof of dishonesty" and said his adversary "is profiting from these lies."
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.
Haddad's campaign also stepped up direct attacks on Bolsonaro over the past week after polls suggested he had a shot at an outright win on Sunday, avoiding a runoff.
On Thursday Haddad's campaign posted a video on its official channels comparing Bolsonaro with German dictator Adolf Hitler.