Brazil’s Elections are a second chance for Big Tech

They are expected to have the same concerns here as they did with the US election

By Patricia Campos Mello

28 Jan 2022

Internet platforms will have until February 14 to submit to the TSE(Tribunal Superior Electoral/Superior Electoral Court) terms of cooperation, providing details on how they are preparing for the election. As Jair Bolsonaro and his allies are continuing their offensive, discrediting the electoral system, along with the disinformation circus that took place in the 2018 election, companies should carry out a wartime strategy to prevent them from being used to manipulate public opinion.

Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google, TikTok, and WhatsApp are expected to show the same level of concern with the Brazilian election as they had with the one that took place in the US.

Facebook said it had begun preparing for the 2020 US election two years in advance — and created specific rules for that election as well as elections in Germany. The app stopped sending recommendations to users to join “civic” groups, those with certain political connotations, and restricted the number of invitations that could be sent per day. Facebook and Instagram banned political ads two weeks before the election — they only resumed in March 2021.

Twitter, which had already banned political ads globally in 2019, began removing tweets that sought to interfere with or contest the election results. It started with alerts on uninformative tweets from political figures and profiles with more than 100 thousand followers, and by blocking retweets and likes.

YouTube — criticized for its slow removal of conspiracy theory videos — has set up a panel for checking information on search results and has banned political ads (as well as Google) for a month. But despite all these actions, the “Stop the Steal” movement spiraled out of control, culminating in the invasion of the U.S. Capitol, and persists to this day.

In Brazil, we know very little about the plans being made by the platforms. Do the companies have teams dedicated to working on the 2022 election? Will they present specific rules of use for the elections? What will they do if one of the candidates does not accept the results and begins to agitate supporters? Here, two of the companies promoted by Bolsonaro: Telegram and Gettr, do not even cooperate with the TSE.

It is not known whether Apple and Google will have policies for candidate apps. The Bolsonaro TV app was downloaded more than 100 thousand times in the Google Store, and a similar app from the PT(Partido dos Trabalhadore/Workers’ Party) saw more than 50 thousand downloads.

According to Sophie Zhang, a former Facebook employee who made complaints about the company, the platform ignored attempts to sabotage elections in several countries. She said there was little desire to protect democracies in countries other than the US or Europe.

The 2022 election is a chance for Big Tech to prove that they have learned from past elections, and that they care about democracy around the world.

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Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism