Facebook, Meta and Tiktok help Stop the Steal to the refusal of the elections in Brazil
The research is the latest in a growing body of evidence that social platforms are failing to prevent a flood misinformation about their services ahead of Sunday’s second round of elections between President Jair Bolsonaro and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Last week, Brazilian lawmakers granted the nation’s election chief unilateral power to compel tech companies to take down misinformation within two hours of posting the content — one of the most aggressive legal moves against the giants. social media that any country has taken.
The right-wing Bolsonaro party has repeatedly claimed without evidence that voting machines used for a quarter of a century in Brazil are prone to fraud. The rhetoric of Bolsonaro supporters has often seemed to echo that of President Donald Trump’s supporters in the 2020 US election, who questioned election results under the Stop the Steal banner.
Some of the main stories circulating in Brazil ahead of the first round of voting on Oct. 2 included specific allegations of fraud, posts attacking the Supreme Electoral Court and bogus calls for “inspectors” at the ballot box, according to Brazilian researchers and left. human rights group Avaaz. Viral audio and video on Telegram, WhatsApp, Facebook and TikTok alleged ballot boxes were pre-filled with votes for former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Disinformation has also been spread by the left. Messages include false allegations that Bolsonaro confessed to cannibalism and pedophilia.
Major social media companies allowed Stop the Steal content to spread virtually unchecked until the violent consequences of the rhetoric became clear on January 6, 2021. Groups on Facebook especially were found by researchers to be major organizing vectors prior to the Stop the Steal rally on Capitol Hill, and that Facebook’s own software algorithms played a significant role in helping these groups gain members.
Since then, companies including Meta and to a lesser extent TikTok have promised to do better, including cracking down on election-related content that could lead to violence. But the latest evidence shows the companies are failing to deliver on their promises, especially outside the United States.
“What we see is that Meta and Google take protecting Brazilian voters less seriously than [that] from their American counterparts,” said Nell Greenberg, deputy director of Avaaz. Ahead of the US midterm elections next month, she noted, companies labeled, downgraded and removed content that incites violence and spreads false information about the election.
“There are still crucial actions they can take to help ensure a safe Election Day and prevent a potential ‘January 6’ in Brazil,” she wrote in an email. “The question is, will they do any of them?”
Meta spokesman Tom Reynolds said the company has updated its search tools in recent weeks ahead of the election. He said top search results now direct users to information from Brazilian authorities.
“We have worked to remove several keyword recommendations that could lead to misinformation and have applied labels to election-related posts on both apps,” he said. “About 30 million people in Brazil clicked on these election tags on Facebook and were directed to the electoral justice website.”
TikTok spokeswoman Jamie Favazza said the company invested in protecting the site ahead of Brazil’s election.
“We take our responsibility to protect the integrity of our platform and our elections very seriously and welcome feedback from NGOs, academics and other experts,” she said in an email. “We continue to invest in our political, safety and security teams to counter election disinformation, as we also provide access to authoritative information through our election guide.”
Brazilian research institute NetLab found that Meta and Google allowed political candidates to run ads on their platforms during the October 2 first round of voting, even though such advertising is prohibited by Brazilian law during that time. The group also found evidence of paid advertising encouraging military intervention in elections as voters headed to the polls.
A test of the Meta and YouTube ad systems by human rights group Global Witness found that companies have endorsed a large number of misleading advertisements, including spots that encouraged people not to vote or gave false dates for the posting of ballots. YouTube said it had “reviewed the ads in question and removed any that violated our policies”, although the Global Witness report showed that all ads submitted were approved by the Google-owned site.
To study how the platforms pushed people into misinformation, SumOfUs researchers created dummy accounts on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. They then typed the terms “vote”, “interventions” and “fraud” into the search bars of these social media services and counted the results.
They found that five of the seven groups recommended by Facebook in searches for the term “intervention” were pushing for military intervention in Brazil’s elections, while five of the seven groups recommended under the search term “fraud” encouraged people to join groups that questioned the integrity of the election. The groups have names such as “Intervention to save Brazil” and “Already the military intervention”.
Overall, the group found that 60% of all content recommended by Facebook and Instagram spread false information about the electoral process.