A collection of stickers and postcards displaying art related to Brazil candidates Lula and Bolsonaro
Photo: Marcelo Villa/VIEWpress

Social media's 2020 failures were a warning for '22. Brazil may be too.

Protocol Policy

Hello and welcome to Protocol Policy! Today I’m thinking about how we don’t always learn the lessons we could from other countries. Plus, Musk is already shaking things up now that he owns Twitter, the U.S. isn’t done with export controls, and Washington State is super duper mad at Meta.

Don’t be surprised

On Sunday, Brazilians will vote in the second-round contest between arch-conservative President Jair Bolsonaro and leftist former president known simply as Lula. João Brant, a former official in the ministry of culture, told Protocol that Facebook, Instagram, and other social media companies are doing too little to control disinformation about the electoral process in the country — a failure that could result in violence. With the U.S. preparing to vote just days after Brazil, Brant’s warnings echo many of the concerns from platform critics in the U.S., even as the online landscape is rapidly shifting as Elon Musk takes the helm at Twitter.

Some of the biggest threats Brant said he sees come from the platforms’ failure to take down many posts questioning the integrity of the country’s democracy and elections.

  • Facebook does ban such ads and some forms of election interference, such as voter suppression in both the U.S. and Brazil — but many critics in the U.S. have said too much gets through, especially when posts don’t focus on particular people or polling places.
  • Brant also criticized the exception to disinformation rules social networks regularly make for posts by newsworthy personalities, which often allows politicians and government officials to spread lies.

Brant said in our interview that he was particularly worried these two issues could collide if Bolsonaro, who is lagging in the polls, does come out behind, as he did after the first round.

  • Bolsonaro has been railing at those same political surveys for underestimating him before, and Brant worries another miss would add fuel to the fire.
  • “If this happens, there will be civil unrest,” Brant said. “The platforms will have to deal with that very quickly and to [decide] if they will allow lies from people who will be … in an insurrection against a democratic result.”

Civil society groups here in the U.S. have almost identical concerns.

  • A coalition of more than 60 organizations released a report on Thursday slamming Meta, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube for their lack of readiness to tackle disinformation, including for not reevaluating their treatment of newsworthy content.
  • At the same time, some experts are increasingly talking about another “election week” in the U.S. — a period of slow vote-counting in close races, for example due to rules around tabulating mail-in ballots — like the one that added fuel to baseless conspiracy theories about fraud in 2020.
  • Those lies eventually led to violence on Jan. 6, and have led to harassment and threats against election workers nationwide.
  • And former President Donald Trump is reportedly planning to fan the flames of doubt again and seek to undermine the results.

All of this, of course, comes as Musk’s takeover of Twitter on Thursday evening, including abruptly firing several top executives, could give election deniers a boost on the platform.

  • Musk got rid of Vijaya Gadde, who had overseen the site’s policies, including on elections.
  • He also reportedly is ready to undo lifetime bans, which would likely mean Trump might return to the site for the first time since he tried to subvert election results — possibly right when he’s ready to do it again.
  • Brant, who spoke with me before Musk’s deal went through, did say Twitter did a better job with disinformation aimed at the election system than Facebook and Instagram — but it’s hard to imagine those policies persisting in Musk’s free-speech-above-all approach.

Brant said there are legitimate concerns about both aggressive content moderation and the Brazilian electoral authorities’ recent expansions of their longstanding powers over lies about candidates. Criticism is the heart of free society, and a policy against protesting election results would surely be bad in many places. But, Brant said, platforms need to admit they know which countries are democracies with trustworthy election systems and moderate election content differently than the services might under authoritarian regimes. And, Brant said, he hopes whatever disruptions he fears for Brazil won’t be coming a few days later for the U.S.

— Ben Brody (email | twitter)

In Washington

A top Commerce Department official signaled export controls against China will continue,according to The Washington Post. Alan Estevez, who leads the Bureau of Industry and Security, said the department would “continue to look at not just what we did with semiconductors, but other areas that the Chinese are using to threaten the United States and its allies.”

The Justice Department is conducting a criminal probe into Tesla’s Autopilot feature. The probe, which began last year but hadn’t been disclosed, reportedly focuses on claims Tesla made about the feature and a series of deadly crashes.

Congress wants to shine a spotlight on ISPs after The Washington Post uncovered abuses of federal funds. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, wrote to major ISPs including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Comcast expressing concern about potential fraud and abuse of the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program and Affordable Connectivity Program, both of which were introduced to alleviate the cost burden of internet services.

In the states

The Washington state attorney general won his case against Meta over campaign finance violations. A judge ruled that Meta had to pay $24.6 million for 822 violations of Washington state law.

The National Labor Relations Board alleges Amazon CEO Andy Jassy broke labor laws. In a filed complaint, the NLRB claims Jassy interfered with unionization efforts when he went on CNBC earlier this year to say, among other things, that Amazon employees were “better off” not unionizing.


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Around the world

Russian officials suggested they could target U.S. commercial satellites being used in Ukraine. Starlink has been among the companies providing satellite-based internet service there.

The Wire apologized to readers for publishing a fabricated story about Indian government officials having backdoor access to Meta platforms. The news outlet had retracted the story on Sunday to review “lapses in editorial oversight.”

In the media, culture, and metaverse

YouTube launched a program to give special verification to licensed health care providers. The program, intended to ensure better access to quality medical advice, requires practitioners to adhere to “best practices” set out by select health organizations including the World Health Organization.

Meta platforms are being used to promote deceptive, partisan media pieces in the lead up to midterms, Bloomberg reports. So far this year, political organizations on both sides of the aisle spent nearly $4 million on Meta advertisements to circulate articles from “pink-slime” outlets that pose as local media and push partisan stories.

In data

70%: That’s around how much Meta’s market value has declined in 2022, with the earnings call on Wednesday that kicked off the latest dip. To outsiders, it may appear that the metaverse bet isn’t working — but on a call with analysts, Mark Zuckerberg said he’s “pretty confident this is going in a good direction.” Meta is now worth around $270 billion, down from over $1 trillion.


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Golden parachute

Twitter’s growing cadre of outbound executives are getting a shiny golden parachute to soften the landing: Parag Agrawal is eligible to receive $50 million, CFO Ned Segal could get $37 million, and legal chief Vijaya Gadde could get $17 million, according to Bloomberg calculations. Other folks suddenly finding themselves out of work at Twitter may not be so lucky.

Thanks for reading — see you Monday.

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