Fighting disinformation

Brazil president signs decree to limit tech companies’ ability to remove content

Victor Barreiro Jr.
Brazil president signs decree to limit tech companies’ ability to remove content

JAIR BOLSONARO. Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro attends a ceremony at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil September 2, 2021.

Adriano Machado/Reuters

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro says the decree is a bid to protect 'freedom of speech' but critics say the move aims to prevent disinformation and hate speech from being removed

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro signed a decree on Monday, September 6, which would adjust internet regulations in the country to limit the ability of tech companies, most especially social media companies, to remove content on their platforms.

An Agence France-Presse (AFP) report citing the federal communications secretariat said the decree aims to combat “the arbitrary and unjust deletion of accounts, profiles and content by providers.”

A Reuters report, citing the presidential press office, said the decree aims to “give clarity” to the policies of social media companies as regards the cancelation of content or accounts and is a bid to protect “freedom of speech.”

A BBC report mentions that details of the decree currently available said social media platforms must provide “just cause and motivation” before removing an account or any moderated content.

The decree itself does not yet appear to be available on the list of decrees made in 2021 on the Brazilian government website.

Details regarding how the decree will be enforced are also not yet available.

A Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to AFP, “This provisional measure significantly hinders our ability to limit abuse on our platforms. We agree with legal experts and specialists who view the measure as a violation of constitutional rights.”

Meanwhile, opposition politician Alessandro Molon, who is fighting Bolsonaro’s presidential decree through legal means, said Brazil’s bill of rights for the internet already protects freedom of expression, which the president’s decree is said to be purportedly for.

“What (Bolsonaro) wants is to prevent the disinformation and hate speech that he and his supporters disseminate from continuing to be removed from the platforms,” Molon said in an AFP report.

A history of disinformation, critic-blocking

The decree follows many instances of Bolsonaro being moderated by social media companies seeking to curb disinformation on their platforms.

YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook took down videos of Bolsonaro for breaching their terms of use.

In videos across 2020 and 2021, Bolsonaro made pronouncements going against recommendations of global public health experts regarding the pandemic.

Such statements included those downplaying the severity of COVID-19, and the benefits of unproven drugs to treat the disease, such as the anti-malaria medicine hydroxychloroquine.

Bolosonaro has also been blocking critics following him on social media, a move which Human Rights Watch said in August violated critics’ “rights to free speech and access to information, and to participate in the conduct of public affairs.”

“Human Rights Watch identified 176 blocked accounts, the vast majority on Twitter, including journalists, members of Congress, influencers with more than a million followers, and private citizens with just a handful,” the group said.

The effect of this blocking makes it slightly more difficult for people to access information said by Bolsonaro, as they would have to log out of their social media accounts just to be able to see his pronouncements.

Maria Laura Canineu, Brazil director at Human Rights Watch, said the move is an attempt to “rid his social media accounts of people and institutions that disagree with him and turn them into spaces where only applause is allowed.” This, in turn, silences and otherwise marginalizes his critics.

Tensions ahead of Brazil’s Independence Day

Bolsonaro’s decree was made on the eve of Brazil’s Independence Day on September 7 and ahead of planned marches by his supporters on that day.

His supporters are expected to rally in support of the president and against Brazil’s Congress and Supreme Court, which have added Bolsonaro to a list of people under investigation for the alleged production of disinformation. – Rappler.com

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Victor Barreiro Jr.

Victor Barreiro Jr is part of Rappler's Central Desk. An avid patron of role-playing games and science fiction and fantasy shows, he also yearns to do good in the world, and hopes his work with Rappler helps to increase the good that's out there.