For Brazilians, Facebook is one of the main sources of news
Facebook shuts down right-wing fake news network in Brazil

For Brazilians, Facebook is one of the main sources of news

Earlier this year, the Political Debate Monitor on Digital Media – an initiative by academics at the University of São Paulo – tried to map the network of websites and Facebook pages directly connected to the Free Brazil Movement (MBL), a far-right organization created by young militants almost four years ago. It managed to find just over 20 active pages that produced, on average, 126 daily posts and generated 150 million interactions (likes, shares, and comments). Now, however, we have found out that MBL’s web was cast far wider.

Reuters revealed that Facebook shut down 196 pages and 87 accounts that were run by MBL senior organizers. Combined, they had more than 500,000 followers. During an event held by Facebook in Curitiba, the company claimed it didn’t shut the pages down due to inappropriate content that may violate their policies. Pages were disabled for their role in “a coordinated network that hid behind fake Facebook accounts and misled people about the nature and origin of its content, all for the purpose of sowing division and spreading misinformation,” as Facebook said, per Reuters.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The MBL called foul play, accusing the social media company of censorship. In an official statement, the movement recalls Mark Zuckerberg’s U.S. Senate hearing in April and says his answers to Congress reveal that “Facebook doesn&#8217;t support free speech nor democracy.” The MBL swears it will recover the content by using all legal, media, and political resources available to them. The movement ends the statement by making a threat to Zuckerberg’s company, saying it will get them back with “exemplary consequences.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The MBL got a small victory today, as a right-wing federal prosecutor ruled in the group&#8217;s favor, demanding that Facebook clarify its decision to the authorities within 48 hours.</span></p> <h2>A trail of fake news</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The MBL gained notoriety for its active role in the 2015-2016 campaign for Dilma Rousseff&#8217;s impeachment. At first, the group presented itself as a non-political organization created by young politicized people. But it was later revealed that, from its inception, the MBL received undeclared funds from right-wing political parties.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Since then, its members profited from the conservative wave sweeping Brazil to insert themselves into institutional politics. Some of them were elected into city councils (including in São Paulo), largely thanks to the MBL&#8217;s huge online following. In October, more MBL leaders will be <a href="https://brazilian.report/2018/07/14/social-media-brazil-2018-election/">running for Congress</a> &#8211; and a significant part of the movement supports far-right president candidate Jair Bolsonaro. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The MBL has been no stranger to the fake news environment. In March, when Rio de Janeiro city councilor Marielle Franco was assassinated, a website began spreading a false rumor that Ms. Franco had dated a notorious drug dealer and had ties to one of the city’s most important cartels. That lie was shared on Facebook more than 360,000 times. The Research Laboratory on Internet and Cyberculture (Labic) tracked the posts down and found that the website was related to the MBL. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In a recent interview for </span><b>The Brazilian Report</b><span style="font-weight: 400;">, Labic coordinator Fabio Malini questioned the power concentrated in Facebook’s hands and how it can be held accountable by national institutions during the campaign this year. “Facebook has to rule on many things that, in my point of view, should be regulated by our institutions,” said Mr. Malini.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Fact-checking agencies are part of the <a href="https://brazilian.report/podcast/2018/04/18/podcast-brazil-fake-news/">antidote for the fake news plague</a> in Brazil&#8217;s political landscape. Major news outlets have also launched their own projects to debunk falsehoods. The MBL, however, argues that these initiatives are in face political instruments to undemocratically reduce the reach of right-wing content.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Back in May, the group promoted a sharp attack against fact-checkers. They assembled a dossier with an &#8220;ideological profile&#8221; (based on their own assumptions) and personal information of 36 journalists who work for these initiatives. The MBL dubbed these journalists as &#8220;leftists&#8221; or &#8220;extreme-left-wingers.&#8221;  After the document was released, MBL supporters began harassing the journalists on social media.

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BY Maria Martha Bruno

Maria Martha is a journalist with 14 years of experience in politics, arts, and breaking news. She has already collaborated with Al Jazeera, NBC, and CNN, among others. She has also worked as an international correspondent in Buenos Aires.