Scamming on social media

Image: Collective Manifest


To date, very few acts have led to the accountability of promoters of disinformation and their financiers.

The coup acts perpetrated on Sunday, January 8, were widely organized and mobilized from Bolsonarist groups that continue to operate on digital platforms. Since last Wednesday, the 4th, several monitoring systems maintained by research institutions and civil society have been detecting messages with calls for participation in the acts, which detailed the plan that, when implemented, led to the occupation and depredation of the buildings of the Three Powers of the Brazilian Republic.

It causes strangeness and indignation that a prepared act was not made unfeasible by the security forces. If, on the one hand, the images from this Sunday make clear the connivance of part of the Armed Forces, police officers and even the administration of the Government of the Federal District (GDF), on the other hand, they once again point to the ineffectiveness of the digital platforms of networks against the circulation of content that threatens democracy and, as such, is flagrantly illegal. Instead of informing the authorities about the imminent risks or even preventively limiting the circulation of such content, the platforms kept them on the air and even monetized pages that produced videos about the situation.

Correctly, the Lula government decreed federal intervention in the field of GDF security. The Advocacy General of the Union (AGU), which recently created the National Attorney for the Defense of Democracy, with attributions also to act in the face of disinformation about public policies, requested the Federal Supreme Court (STF) (and was answered by Minister Alexandre de Moraes ) that orders platforms to “interrupt the monetization of profiles and transmission of social media that may promote, in some way, acts of invasion and depredation of public buildings”. The AGU also asks that data be kept for 180 days. The measure is important to enable those responsible to be punished.

We now need to move from reaction to the democratic organization of the social media environment, which is increasingly important for public debate and for democracy itself. In this sense, it is up to the federal government to follow the recommendation of the Communications WG of the governmental transition, which proposed that the multisectoral debate on platform regulation, through public consultation, be initiated in the first 100 days of government.

The behavior of digital platforms throughout the elections and even in the face of anti-democratic acts shows that what we have today is absolutely incapable of facing the challenges we have in this field. During the elections, particularly in the second round, even with the toughest decisions of the STF, what we saw was the maintenance of channels, profiles and coup-mongering content. For example, only on October 31st did YouTube, the main video platform on the internet, change its rules and began to prohibit “content that promotes false allegations that widespread fraud, errors or failures occurred in certain previously certified national elections, or that the certified results of these elections were false related to the 2022 election in Brazil”.

The company reacted to the criticism, as did the others, after its lenient stance favored the weakening of democracy. It is no coincidence that the president of the Superior Electoral Court (TSE), Minister Alexandre de Moraes, in the first conversation he had with then-president-elect Lula, addressed the need to regulate digital platforms.

“The democratizing potential of this scenario, however, has given way to the growth of practices of disinformation, hate speech and political violence, which threatens social coexistence and the democratic regime, as the 2018 and 2022 Brazilian elections unfortunately showed. Without being the object of a systemic and strategic vision by the State, the digital environment has increased inequalities between segments of the population, between those who have and those who do not have full access to networks and information and communication technologies and applications”, says the report. end of GT.

What we saw in the attack on Brazilian institutions shows that the Bolsonarism phenomenon will not cool down easily. To combat it, I highlight, in line with what appears in the report, the need for a systemic and strategic vision, because, if it is true that several areas of the government, such as the aforementioned AGU, the Ministry of Justice and the Secretariat of Communication Social, began their work in the new government with clear concern for the situation of platforms and the internet in general, it is still not clear whether this will mean tackling this complex agenda, something important to respond to the height, establish clear procedures and avoid casuistry.

Worldwide, the debate on the regulation of digital platforms advances. This is the case of the European Union, which approved the Digital Markets Law (DMA) and the Digital Services Law (DSA), which impose obligations, rights and prohibitions to contain the market power of technology companies, also establishing measures for a greater scrutiny of illegal content on the internet.

In Brazil, Bill 2630 also presents important proposals, especially with regard to ensuring transparency and due process in content moderation. Measures of this type could limit the operation of disinformation campaigns on the network, in addition to providing information for institutions to act preventively. Regulation can mean a structural organization, which must be complemented, as the report also points out, by measures of media literacy and guarantee of internet access, so that the Brazilian population does not remain hostage to a limited access that, ultimately, it also limits the information you have.

In addition to the internet situation, it should be noted that this Sunday's situation also sheds light on the problem of radio broadcasting, also addressed by the WG, which dealt with the need to update the sector's legislation and create a space for receiving reports of violations - something widely used in countries such as France, the United Kingdom and Argentina. In covering the coup acts, the Young pan, a broadcaster that uses a public concession, promoted the actions of what it called “patriots”. The same station spent months covering the occupations in front of the barracks, serving as an amplifier of the coup, without any institutional reaction.

To date, very few acts have led to the accountability of promoters of disinformation and their financiers. We cannot continue to live with coup plotters and see their content and actions guide public life. We scream “no amnesty”, and we also need to scream for a democratic environment in communications. This is the present agenda and needs to be seen by the new government as central.

*Helena Martins Professor of Journalism at the Federal University of Ceará. She was one of the coordinators and rapporteur of the Transition Communications WG.

Originally published on GGN newspaper.


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