Facebook has removed dozens of what it said are fake social media accounts linked to the offices of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his sons. The accounts were used to target journalists and political opponents of the president, and also discussed the coronavirus.
In a statement Wednesday, Facebook’s Head of Security Policy Nathaniel Gleicher said the company took down “35 Facebook accounts, 14 Pages, 1 Group and 38 Instagram accounts that were involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior in Brazil.”
Gleicher wrote the people behind the accounts “attempted to conceal their identities,” but were discovered to be “associated with the Social Liberal Party and some of the employees of the offices of Anderson Moraes, Alana Passos, Eduardo Bolsonaro, Flavio Bolsonaro and Jair Bolsonaro.”
The accounts reportedly posted about “domestic politics and elections.” They also posted “criticism of the political opposition, media organizations and journalists, and most recently they posted about the coronavirus pandemic,” Facebook said, adding that one or more of the social media pages had more than 883,000 followers.
The social network removed the accounts not for their content, but for “inauthentic” activity that aimed “to evade enforcement, create fictitious personas posing as reporters, post content, and manage Pages masquerading as news outlets.”
President Bolsonaro has not commented on the Facebook action. However, when asked about the accounts, his eldest son Flavio Bolsonaro told CNN that “as far as we know, they are all free and independent.”
He also questioned “whether or not the platform [Facebook] exceeded the limits of censorship” in removing the accounts. “Judgments that do not allow for contradiction and wide defense are not compatible with our democracy, they are weapons that can destroy reputations and lives,” he said.
Separately, Flavio Bolsonaro tweeted, “My solidarity to all the profiles that were unfairly censored by Facebook and Instagram - apparently for supporting President Bolsonaro. As soon as you create your new profiles to exercise the sacred freedom of expression, let me know in private and I will help spread the word.”
Civil rights groups have accused Facebook in the past of failing to stop the spread of misinformation and hate speech on its platform, and a group of US businesses is currently boycotting the social network over the same issue, vowing to halt advertising until at least the end of the month.
An audit commissioned by Facebook and put together by a team of civil rights attorneys over a two-year period has raised concerns about “vexing and heartbreaking decisions” made by the social network, including its decision not to take action on multiple controversial posts from President Donald Trump. The audit accuses Facebook of having been “far too reluctant to adopt strong rules to limit misinformation and voter suppression” as the 2020 US presidential election looms.
Reporting contributed by Donie O’Sullivan in New York.