[Read more session reports and live updates from the 13th Internet Governance Forum]
The open forum addressed the activities undertaken in Brazil by the Comitê Gestor da Internet no Brasil (CGI.br), to foster a multistakeholder debate about the Internet, elections and democracy. The panellists addressed the use of fake news on social media networks in the recent elections, and the responses of public actors to this, including the prevalence of the right to freedom of expression.
The Open Forum was moderated by Mr Hartmut Glaser, Executive Secretary, Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI.br), who pointed out the increased use of social networks and online communications in the last Brazilian presidential elections. He asked the panellists for their views on the subject.
Mr Henrique Faulhaber, Software Industry Business Representative, started by saying that the new Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, was from a very small party (the PSL) which ended up with 54 Federal Deputies, 76 State Deputies and 4 Senators being elected. Because the President-to-be was part of a small party, he had just 8 seconds available on TV for his campaign. In addition, he participated in only very few interviews with the mainstream media and newspapers. He opted to put into question the accuracy of traditional media, and to invest his campaign in social networks.
In Brazil, 68% of voters have a social network account. Jair Bolsonaro has 20 million followers on his Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube profiles, and his campaign was conducted mainly through these platforms. Paid ads were for the first time authorised during the presidential elections. Massive misinformation on social network and other means of online communication, including WhatsApp, was reported by universities and research institutes. Brazilian legislation outlaws the use of foreign phone numbers to spread campaign messages on WhatsApp, nevertheless foreign phone numbers spreading campaign information were reported to the Electoral Court.
Faulhaber stressed that there is no easy solution for regulating content on online platforms or on online communications services, but preserving democracy depends on some sort of regulation of those platforms.
Ms Flávia Lefèvre, Intervozes, Civil Society Representative, underlined that the last presidential electoral process was marked by the use of personal data to spread private messages on WhatsApp. Research institutes and universities have demonstrated that these messages were used by the party of the now-elected president, Jair Bolsonaro, with specific highly offensive and misleading content against his opposition. Lefèvre highlighted that Brazilian electoral law has been recently reformed, and online political campaigning banned, with the exception of websites in which authors can be identified without margin of error. She said that using personal data to modulate elections can seriously jeopardise our democracies, and Brazil was not the first case where this has happened. The compromises with freedom of speech and lack of censorship are core elements in any democratic process, but the civil liability of online platforms on illegal content must be taken into consideration.
Mr Luiz Fernando Martins Castro, Federal Government Representative, Science and Technology Ministry, indicated that at the beginning of the year he was invited by the Electoral Court to address fake news on social platforms. The Court believed that consulting specialists could help to prevent or minimise problems related to the high diffusion of fake news on social media platforms. Representatives from federal police forces and the army were in the same committee, and the court dealt with the question of fake news as a national security issue. The civil society sector insisted that freedom of expression should be the guiding force in the debate about prevention of fake news. Monitoring the Internet did not seem the right solution, and the point of view of freedom of speech prevailed, with the Electoral Court opting for a post-factum approach. Castro indicated that the problem is that such an approach can become inefficient, considering Brazil has legislation which allows the paid pushing of information on social networks.
Glaser concluded by saying that the CGI.br does not create regulations. The committee only makes recommendations to the courts when they are required to. He added that all sectors participate in the Committee.
By Ana Maria Corrêa