Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro is temporarily banning social media companies from removing certain content, including his claim that the only way he will lose next year’s election is if the vote is rejected. fraud – one of the most important steps taken by a democratically elected leader to control what can be said on the internet.
The new social media rules, issued this week and effective immediately, appear to be the first time the national government has prevented internet companies from removing content that violates their rules, according to the report. internet law professionals and officials at technology companies. And they come at a precarious time for Brazil.
Mr. Bolsonaro used social media as a megaphone to build his political movement and bring it to the office of the president. Now, with polls suggesting he would lose the presidential election if they were held today, he is using sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to try to undermine legitimacy. of the vote, according to the books of his close ally, former President Donald J. Trump. On Tuesday, Mr Bolsonaro repeated his announcement of the election to thousands of supporters in two cities as part of nationwide protests on Brazil’s Independence Day.
Under the new policy, tech companies can only remove posts if they relate to certain topics covered in the measure, such as nudity, drugs and violence, or if they encourage crime or copyright infringement; In order to knock someone down, they must have a court order. That said, in Brazil, tech companies can easily remove a nude photo, but not lie about the coronavirus. The pandemic has been a major topic of misinformation under Mr Bolsonaro, with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all removing videos from him about pushing drugs that have not been proven to cure the coronavirus.
Carlos Affonso Souza, a law professor at Rio de Janeiro State University, said: “You can only imagine how difficult it would be for a large platform to get a judicial warrant for each misinformation. that they found.
Brazil’s new internet rules are the latest attempt in a larger battle that conservatives are waging against Silicon Valley. Politicians and experts on the right have argued that tech companies are censoring conservative voices and increasingly pushing for legislation that makes it difficult for social networks to remove posts or accounts from their websites. than.
Florida passed a law in May that would fine internet companies ban any political candidates from their websites, though a federal judge blocked it a month later. The governor of Texas is expected to sign a similar bill into law soon. Other countries have proposed similar legislation, but Brazil’s new policy appears to be the most important measure enacted at the national level.
In a post on TwitterBolsonaro’s government said the policy “prohibit deletion of content could lead to any form of ‘censorship of the political, ideological, scientific, artistic or religious order’.”
In addition to restricting the types of posts a company can take down, the rules could also require tech companies to justify the removal of any post or any account, even those protected exception. The government can then force companies to reinstate posts or accounts if the decision to remove is unjustified.
Tech companies were quick to criticize the new policy. Facebook said that “this measure significantly impedes our ability to limit abuse on our platform,” and the company agrees “with legal experts and experts to view this measure as a violation of our constitutional rights.” .
Twitter said the policy would change existing internet law in Brazil, “as well as erode the values and consensus on which it was built”.
YouTube said it was still analyzing the law before making any changes. “We will continue to clarify the importance of our policies and the risks to users and creators if we are unable to enforce them,” the company said.
Facebook says it has yet to change the way it controls content in Brazil. Twitter declined to say. It’s unclear how this measure will affect content outside of Brazil.
According to political and legal analysts who monitor Brazil, the new regulations may not be around for long. Mr. Bolsonaro issued them as a temporary measure, a kind of emergency order intended to deal with emergency situations. Such measures will expire after 120 days if the Brazilian Congress does not introduce permanent measures. Several members of Congress have publicly opposed the measure, and five political parties and a Brazilian senator have filed lawsuits with the nation’s Supreme Court seeking to block it.
But Mr Bolsonaro told supporters at a rally on Tuesday that he would ignore rulings from a Supreme Court judge who helped lead investigations into Mr Bolsonaro’s administration, alarmed observers around the world that the president is threatening Brazil’s democracy.
Mr. Bolsonaro has taken other steps to make online misinformation harder to combat. This month, for example, he vetoed a section of national security law that would provide criminal penalties for those found guilty of orchestrating mass disinformation campaigns.
Matthew Taylor, director of the Brazilian Research Initiative at American University, says Bolsonaro is using internet policy to rally supporters and distract from the scandals surrounding his handling of the pandemic. and his clashes with the court. Mr Bolsonaro has described this moment as crucial to the fate of his political movement.
Mr. Taylor spoke of the policy enacted before the protests that Bolsonaro hopes will stir support for his tumultuous presidency. “This is playing for Bolsonaro’s domestic audience.”
Brazilian Government said in its post on Twitter that it has “taken a global lead in defending freedom of expression on social media and defending citizens’ rights to freedom of thought and expression.” The government did not respond to a request for further comment.
Law professor Affonso Souza said: “While temporary measures like these take effect immediately, companies have 30 days to update their policies before facing penalties. He said the country’s Supreme Court could rescind the measure before internet companies had to comply, but argued it set a dangerous precedent.
The president, he said, has created a way to ensure that misinformation “stays up to date on the internet and helps it spread more easily.”
In recent months, Mr. Bolsonaro has alarmed many parts of Brazil about his increasingly authoritarian responses to a series of political crises, including a spiraling pandemic, economic crises, and more. , judicial investigations against him and his family, and the number of polls is decreasing. He has attacked Brazil’s electronic voting system as an excuse to discount the upcoming election and he recently told supporters that there are only three outcomes for his presidency. ta: He was re-elected, jailed or killed.
In July, YouTube removed 15 videos of Mr Bolsonaro for spreading misinformation about the coronavirus. And late last month, YouTube said that, by order of a Brazilian court, it had stopped paying 14 pro-Bolsonaro channels for spreading misinformation about next year’s presidential election.
Brazil’s Supreme Court is also investigating disinformation activities in the country. Mr. Bolsonaro was the target of those investigations last month, and several of his allies were questioned or detained.
This week, Jason Miller, a former Trump adviser, was detained for three hours at an airport in Brasília, the nation’s capital, where he had attended a conservative political conference. In an interview, Mr. Miller said authorities told him they were questioning him as part of a Supreme Court investigation. “It was ridiculous,” he said. “It really shows how freedom of speech is being attacked in the country of Brazil.”
Mr. Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist who won the 2018 presidential election, has long been compared to Mr. Trump. His recent actions — including claims of a rigged election, skepticism about the coronavirus, and complaints about Big Tech’s censorship — have deepened the similarities.
Mr. Trump lost his speaker this year when tech companies kicked him off their websites for comments he made regarding a hurricane on the US Capitol in January.
More recently, Mr. Bolsonaro has sought to reduce his reliance on big tech companies. On Monday, he urged people on Twitter and Facebook to follow him on Telegram, a messaging service that takes a more understandable approach to content.
Daphne Keller, a lecturer in internet law at Stanford University, said conservative politicians have proposed legislation like the Brazilian measure in the United States, Poland and Mexico, but none have been passed.
“If platforms have to make everything legal, they turn into horrible trash cans that nobody wants to use,” Ms. Keller said. “It’s a mechanism for the government to put its thumb on the scale to say what is seen on the internet.”
Lis Moriconi contributed reporting.