AN INVESTIGATION BY GLOBAL WITNESS has found that Facebook failed to detect advertisements containing disinformation relating to the Brazilian general election, to be held on 2 October 2022.

These advertisements promoted the wrong election date and false voting methods, which could have prevented people from voting, and called into question the integrity of the election.

Global Witness submitted ten Brazilian Portuguese-language advertisements that contained election disinformation, and all were accepted for publication by Facebook. All of the advertisements submitted violated Meta’s election advertising policies and community guidelines.

Global Witness was also able to submit the advertisements from outside Brazil and pay for them with a non-Brazilian payment method, with an account that had not been verified by Facebook’s ‘ad authorisation’ process – a requirement for any account posting election-related content.

One advertisement which was aimed towards Indigenous groups and promoted the wrong election date was initially rejected under Facebook’s “Ads about social issues, elections, or politics” policy. But just six days later, without any intervention from Global Witness, the ad was approved without explanation. The organisation says this bizarre sequence of decisions from Facebook seriously calls into question the integrity of its content moderation systems.

“Facebook knows very well that its platform is used to spread election disinformation and undermine democracy around the world”, said Jon Lloyd, Senior Advisor at Global Witness. “Despite Facebook’s self-proclaimed efforts to tackle disinformation – particularly in high stakes elections – we were appalled to see that they accepted every single election disinformation ad we submitted in Brazil.”

This follows a similar pattern Global Witness found in Myanmar, Ethiopia, and Kenya, revealing Facebook’s inability to detect hate speech in volatile political environments. What was different on this occasion was that the advertising content contained incorrect information that could prevent people from voting, such as false information about when, where, and how to vote. Some of the advertisements also call into question the integrity of Brazil’s electronic voting machines – with messaging mirroring current President Bolsonaro’s narrative of a potential stolen election and setting the stage for contesting the election result.

Election disinformation continues to spread rapidly across Brazil, with some political groups seeking to lay the groundwork for unrest and violence to contest the election, using similar tactics to the “Stop the Steal” disinformation campaign in the 2020 US election.

“The disinformation that Facebook allows on its platform feeds into the ‘stop the steal’ narrative in Brazil – a growing tactic intended to set the stage for contesting the election and risking similar violence as we saw during the 6 January insurrection attempt in the US”, said Lloyd. “Facebook can and must do better. It’s not enough to say they’ve hired thousands of content moderators and have invested in AI detection – when clearly these safeguards are failing. They need to show their work.”

João Brant, coordinator of the Desinformante platform in Brazil, said: “This investigation shows that Meta prioritises its profit over the protection of Global South democracies. The company shows its inability to control the use of its platform to spread fake news, and this has a direct negative impact on our democracy.”

Jon Lloyd added: “This election is the first since Bolsonaro came to power in 2018 and, under Bolsonaro, the world has seen accelerated deforestation in the Amazon and a higher number of environmental defenders murdered than ever before. This election is critical – the people of Brazil and our planet depend on a clean and fair election. Facebook must urgently tackle the disinformation proliferating on its platform to prevent the risk of election interference, disinformation, unrest and violence in Brazil.”

In response to Global Witness’s findings a Meta spokesperson said: “We cannot comment on these findings as we don’t have access to the full report. However, we prepared extensively for the 2022 election in Brazil. We’ve launched tools that promote reliable information and label election-related posts, established a direct channel for the Superior Electoral Court to send us potentially-harmful content for review, and continue closely collaborating with Brazilian authorities and researchers. Our efforts in Brazil’s previous election resulted in the removal of 140,000 posts from Facebook and Instagram for violating our election interference policies and 250,000 rejections of unauthorised political ads. We are and have been deeply committed to protecting election integrity in Brazil and around the world.”

Global Witness is calling on Facebook to:

  • Urgently increase its content moderation capabilities and integrity systems – including its account authorisation process – and ensure that the moderators understand the appropriate cultural context and nuance of Brazilian politics
  • Allow verified independent third party auditing so that Meta can be held accountable for what they say they are doing.
  • Respond to the 90+ Brazilian civil society organisations’ policy recommendations in their report The Role Of Digital Platforms In Protecting Electoral Integrity In The 2022 Brazilian Election.

* Read The Role Of Digital Platforms In Protecting Electoral Integrity In The 2022 Brazilian Election here.

* Source: Global Witness