Brazilian authorities, confronting a deluge of online misinformation prior to the country’s presidential election, granted the nation’s elections chief unilateral authority to order tech companies to remove numerous online posts and videos. This is one of the most aggressive measures taken by a country to combat misinformation.
Under the guidelines adopted on Thursday, the elections director may order the immediate removal of anything that, in his opinion, violates prior directives. Within two hours, social networks must comply with the election chief’s removal instructions or risk having their services suspended in Brazil.
Claims that candidates are Satanists, cannibals, and paedophiles have swamped the country’s presidential contest in recent days, culminating in this action by election authorities in Brazil to combat the spread of false information.
By enabling a single person to determine what may be said online in the lead-up to the high-stakes election on October 30, Brazil has become a test case in a growing argument over how far to go in combating “fake news.”
Supporters of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro criticised the decision, as did many internet-law and civil-rights experts, who saw it as a potentially dangerous, authoritarian extension of authority that might be exploited to stifle valid perspectives and tilt the presidential election.
The elections head, Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes, is already at the heart of a different dispute about the expanding power of Brazil’s top court. He has ordered investigations against Mr. Bolsonaro and imprisoned some of his followers for what Mr. Moraes described as assaults on the country’s democratic institutions.
Carlos Affonso Souza, a professor at Rio de Janeiro State University, described Thursday’s decision as “risky.” Depending on how he exploits these privileges, I believe it might go too far.
Others in Brazil, including those on the left, see the action as a crucial instrument to combat the escalating flood of bogus claims made by Mr. Bolsonaro’s followers.
During Thursday’s vote on the rules, Mr. Moraes reported a roughly 17-fold increase in disinformation complaints compared to previous elections.
On October 30, Mr. Bolsonaro goes battle against the leftist former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in an election largely viewed as Brazil’s most significant in decades.
According to the new regulations, which were unanimously approved by the seven federal judges who make up Brazil’s electoral court, the elections chief’s enlarged powers are in force throughout election campaigns. The powers will expire after the presidential election, but they will be reinstated for future campaigns.
The guidelines permit Mr. Moraes to force social networks to instantly remove anything that, in his opinion, violates prior rulings by the larger electoral court.
The electoral court has previously outlawed posters that accuse Mr. Bolsonaro of being a paedophile, an accusation that has gained momentum in recent days with the release of a video showing the president claiming that there was “a spark” between him and two underage females. Additionally, the court has ordered the removal of information claiming that Mr. da Silva is corrupt. Mr. da Silva was imprisoned on corruption accusations that were ultimately dropped.