Organizations call for changes from big techs to tackle disinformation and political violence in Brazilian elections

More than 90 civil society organizations draft a common agenda and list demands for digital platforms against online disinformation

Foto: Bruno de los Santos/Fotos Públicas Foto: Bruno de los Santos/Fotos Públicas

A group of more than 90 civil society organizations and Brazilian academic researchers released a document on Thursday, July 7, calling on digital media platforms to take more effective measures to protect the integrity of the 2022 election process. The document contains more than two dozen recommendations on content moderation, ad libraries, political violence against minority groups and combating disinformation networks on the environmental agenda.

The document states that, “although there are differences between them, none of the social media platforms have policies that are properly suited to the challenges already being posed in this election process”. The organizations are also calling for improvements to be made to the Portuguese language systems that detect problematic content and hate speech to protect vulnerable social groups from digital harassment and the election process itself. 

“False or misleading information affects the collective dimension of freedom of expression, recognized by the Inter-American Human Rights System, which is based on the expectation that society can be well informed,” the document reads. “In the case of election processes, disinformation also has a huge impact, with the potential to affect the democratic order. It is to this effect that we hope that platforms will make every effort to protect both the individual and collective dimensions of freedom of expression, as well as the necessary balance between this and other constitutional rights,” it continues.

Among the document’s main contributions is the recommendation for a set of guidelines for changes to be made immediately to protect election integrity in Brazil. According to the civil society organizations, the platforms should not allow content with unfounded allegations of electoral fraud or direct attacks on the integrity of the electoral system, given their ability to undermine trust in the electoral system and the democratic process. Neither should they allow the boosting or recommending of content that calls into question the integrity of the system or give special treatment to political actors in the moderation of misleading content (or lack thereof). They should also create direct communication channels with the Electoral Courts and the Electoral Public Prosecutor’s Office in the event of an institutional crisis, and explain how quickly they will act when receiving reports of disinformation made to the Superior Electoral Court.

On the matter of ad libraries (tools that can be used by any person to check ads run by a platform), the document requests the inclusion of Brazilian researchers on the Facebook Open Research and Transparency platform, which was released in May 2022 in the US and UK. It also asks Google to expand its ad library to include candidates for elected office in state governments. There is also a request for ads related to topics that will be on the election agenda to be classified as sensitive content, to be more in line with the standards already used by the platforms in the US.

The document also has two chapters with specific recommendations for policies to combat violence against women, colored and indigenous people, and the quilombola and LGBTQIA+ communities – for example, the moderation and rapid removal of content that threatens candidates from these groups – and policies to combat disinformation about the environment, climate and traditional peoples – such as not monetizing or allowing the boosting of content that denies the climate crisis or channels with environmental and social disinformation.

The document is signed by organizations and networks such as the Brazilian Association of NGOs (Abong), the Rights on the Net Coalition, the Black Coalition for Rights and the Climate Observatory, among others, in partnership with the Pact for Democracy, Conectas and the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji). 

“The platforms need to make the necessary changes now to ensure the integrity of the election process. Under the current rules, it will be impossible to cope with the problems on the scale that is expected,” said João Brant, general director of the Culture and Democracy Institute’s disinformation initiative Desinformante. 

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