Facebook and other social media platforms risk millions of dollars in fines over Brazil’s new disinformation rule

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A demonstration against the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro on June 19 in São Paulo, Brazil.
  • An order from the Brazilian president comes with fines of up to several million dollars.
  • The rule would prohibit social media platforms from removing false information without a court order.
  • Jair Bolsonaro rose to popularity thanks to extreme rhetoric often posted on YouTube.
  • See more stories on the Insider business page.

A new decision by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to ban social media platforms from deleting false information could result in hefty fines for any company that does not live up to the mandate.

In an interim rule signed Wednesday night, Bolsonaro banned major social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, SnapChat and TikTok from moderating content they believe contains false information. Businesses will need a Brazilian court order to remove this content.

“Social media providers are prohibited from adopting moderation criteria or limiting the scope of dissemination of content that involves political, ideological, scientific, artistic or religious censorship,” reads an English translation of the rule.

The rule provides for fines of up to 10% of the company’s income in Brazil. It could be costly for social media networks. Brazil is one of the largest social media markets, according to the US Foreign Agricultural Service, with people spending an average of 3.5 hours a day on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest.

Facebook has more than 130 million estimated users nationwide and its average revenue per user in its “Rest of the World” region was over $ 3 in the second quarter. This means that the company is likely generating hundreds of millions of dollars in annual profits in Brazil, exposing it to fines of at least $ 10 million.

YouTube is also huge in the country, with around 83 million active users, a second audience after Globo TV channel. Bolsonaro was a relatively unknown lawmaker until he launched a YouTube channel in 2016 that became popular with far-right activists. He was elected president in 2018.

Beyond fines, which can accumulate daily or be imposed all at once, the rule says that a platform can also be temporarily “suspended” if it removes a position without a court order, although it does. there is no specified duration for such suspension. Businesses have 30 days to comply with the rule. It was not approved by the Brazilian National Congress, so it may not become a permanent regulation. The interim rule also allows businesses to remove illegal content, such as child pornography.

Facebook told ZDNet that the move “severely limits” its ability to tackle abusive behavior on its platform.

A Twitter spokesperson said the rule “makes significant changes to the Internet framework, as well as undermines the values ​​and consensus on which it was built,” but did not say whether the company would abide by it.

YouTube “is closely analyzing the impact of this decree on our policies and our products,” said a spokesperson for video giant Google. “We will continue to communicate the importance of our policies and the risks to our users and creators if we cannot apply them.”

The moderation of content by these companies has at times clashed with Bolsonaro’s interests, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this summer, YouTube released several videos in which Bolsonaro made false claims about the coronavirus, including that masks do not effectively protect against transmission, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. Facebook and Twitter have also removed posts and entire accounts of pro-Bolsonaro politicians and businessmen who have peddled lies and conspiracy theories.

Nearly 600,000 Brazilians have died from the virus and it has become a major problem as Bolsonaro seeks re-election next year, with current polls showing he is unlikely to win.



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