Facebook suspends disinformation network tied to staff of Brazil’s Bolsonaro
Facebook Inc (FB.O) on Wednesday suspended a network of social media accounts it said were used to spread divisive political messages online by employees of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and two of his sons.
FILE PHOTO: Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro looks on after a meeting at the Ministry of Defense headquarters, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brasilia, Brazil, May 29 2020. REUTERS/Adriano Machado
The company said that despite efforts to disguise who was behind the activity, it had found links to the staff of two Brazilian lawmakers, as well as the president and his sons, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro and Senator Flavio Bolsonaro.
Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebookâ€™s head of cybersecurity policy, said the accounts were removed for using fake personas and other types of â€œcoordinated inauthentic behaviourâ€ which violated the companyâ€™s rules.
He said there was no evidence the politicians themselves had operated the accounts. â€œWhat we can prove is that employees of those offices are engaged on our platforms in this type of behaviour,â€ he told Reuters ahead of the announcement on the companyâ€™s blog. (bit.ly/2Cf0dMA)
Facebook said it has also suspended three other networks on Wednesday, including one it attributed to Roger Stone, a longtime friend and adviser of U.S. President Donald Trump.
The Brazilian presidentâ€™s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The allegations by Facebook add to a burgeoning political crisis in Brazil, where Bolsonaroâ€™s sons and supporters have been accused of running a coordinated online campaign to smear the presidentâ€™s opponents.
The accusations have spurred a congressional inquiry and a separate Supreme Court investigation into so-called â€œfake news attacksâ€ on the countryâ€™s judiciary, which led to police raids in May on the homes and offices of Bolsonaro allies.
Bolsonaro, who is also under mounting criticism over his handling of the coronavirus outbreak, has said the courtâ€™s investigation is unconstitutional and risks establishing censorship in Brazil by policing what people can say online.
Facebook has come under increasing pressure in recent weeks to better police how political groups use its platform. Hundreds of advertisers have joined a boycott aimed at forcing the company to block hate speech on its site, and multiple employees walked out last month over CEO Mark Zuckerbergâ€™s decision not to challenge inflammatory posts Trump.
Gleicher said his team had identified and suspended more than 80 accounts on Facebook and its photo-sharing site, Instagram, as part of the Brazilian network. The accounts had amassed 1.8 million followers, he said, and some dated back to 2018.
Researchers at the Atlantic Councilâ€™s Digital Forensic Research Lab, who spent a week analysing the activity identified by Facebook, said they had found five current and former political staffers who registered and operated the accounts.
Some of those accounts posed as fake Brazilians and news outlets to spread â€œhyper-partisan viewsâ€ supporting Bolsonaro and attacking his critics, said researcher Luiza Bandeira. Their targets included opposition lawmakers, former ministers and members of Brazilâ€™s Supreme Court.
More recently, the accounts also amplified Bolsonaroâ€™s claims that the risks of the coronavirus pandemic are exaggerated. The disease has killed more than 66,000 people in Brazil and Bolsonaro himself tested positive this week.
â€œWe have known for a long time that when people disagree with Bolsonaro they are targeted by this machine that uses online disinformation to mock and discredit them,â€ said Bandeira.
â€œSo knowing now that part of these attacks are coming from people directly related to the Bolsonaro family, that explains a lot.â€