This grab from a video shared on July 8, 2020 on the official Facebook page of Jair Bolsonaro (https://www.facebook.com/jairmessias.bolsonaro) shows Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro gesturing while having his hydroxychloroquine dose, after having tested positive for COVID-19. Picture: STRINGER / AFP
This grab from a video shared on July 8, 2020 on the official Facebook page of Jair Bolsonaro (https://www.facebook.com/jairmessias.bolsonaro) shows Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro gesturing while having his hydroxychloroquine dose, after having tested positive for COVID-19. Picture: STRINGER / AFP

Facebook has removed dozens of pages linked to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his sons for violating the platform’s rules on fake accounts.

The measure announced on Wednesday is part of global efforts to purge inauthentic accounts that the tech company said were working together to mislead users about who they were and what they were doing.

In Brazil, Facebook said it identified a network of accounts linked to employees of the Bolsonaros that worked to “create fictitious personas posing as reporters, post content, and manage pages masquerading as news outlets.”

In total, the tech giant said it was deleting 73 Facebook and Instagram accounts, 14 pages and one group.

“When we take these actions, it’s based on the behaviour we see in the platform, not the actors behind it or what they say,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said on a call with journalists.

The bans involved employees of Bolsonaro and members of his party, but did not result in enforcement against the politicians themselves, because there was no direct evidence they were involved in the operation. “We remove everything involved in the operation, whether it is real or fake,” said Gleicher, “but we don’t necessarily make leaps of inference beyond what we can prove.”

The president and his social media savvy sons, Eduardo and Flavio, have long used social media networks to push their political views and rally their base of supporters. Brazil’s Supreme Court is investigating allegations made by political rivals and the local press that the Bolsonaros have spread conspiracy theories, slander and lies — accusations they deny.

Opposition parties asked Supreme Court justice Alexandre de Moraes, who is leading the fake news probe, to also investigate the case unveiled by Facebook, Folha de S. Paulo newspaper reported.

Free speech

Flavio, a senator, called the banning of accounts an assault on free speech. “It’s impossible to assess what kind of profile was banned or whether the platform has crossed the limit of censorship,” he said in a statement.

Eduardo tweeted that “being censured on social networks is turning into a sign that the content is good and makes the Left uncomfortable.”

The presidential office did not responded to a request for comment.

The bans come as Brazilian authorities are taking aggressive steps to stem the spread of disinformation. Last week, Brazil’s Senate passed draft legislation that would impose strict messaging rules and data storage requirements on social media companies.

In May, the Supreme Court ordered federal police to raid dozens of properties and seize computers, smartphones and bank records of influential Bolsonaro allies. The judge leading the investigation said he saw evidence of the existence of a “criminal association” dedicated to mass dissemination of fake news.

Bloomberg

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