By excluding accounts and pages from servers linked to the Bolsonaro family and PSL members, Facebook again drew attention to the use of its platform as a means of artificially increasing the reach of publications. In a statement about the decision, the company made it clear that the removal of the content was not related to the spread of false news, but to the use of duplicate profiles or fictitious information.
The owners of the excluded accounts and pages are linked to President Jair Bolsonaro (without a party), Senator Flávio Bolsonaro (Republicanos-RJ), Federal Deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro (PSL-SP) or Rio de Janeiro State Deputies, Alana Passos (PSL) and Anderson Moraes (PSL). According to Facebook, the exclusion was due to inauthentic and coordinated behavior.
The company’s decision may influence the work of CPMI on fake news. In Congress, four requests are pending parliamentary consideration to ask Facebook to share information about accounts and removed pages. One of them is the president of the Joint Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry, Senator Angelo Coronel (PSD-BA).
In application 473/2020, Colonel proposes that the fake news CPMI requests “the secrets of the creation, connection and access records” of accounts, pages and groups excluded by the company, as well as the “preservation of the content” conveyed by its owners. The document also provides for questioning the reasons that led to the platform’s decision.
In his justification, the senator states that the exclusion of Facebook accounts shows that the CPMI of fake news is acting in the right way to combat disinformation. Created in July 2019, the commission was announced as a means of “investigating cyber attacks that attack democracy and public debate, as well as creating false profiles to influence elections”.
Colonel, who was also a rapporteur for the fake news PL in the Senate, became involved in a controversy in September 2019 by announcing that he would arrest anyone who has a false profile. At the time, the senator’s adviser said the statement was a force for expression to highlight the need for tougher treatment against those who commit crimes through supposedly anonymous profiles.
The requirement 472/2020, by Senator Randolfe Rodrigues (Rede-AP), goes beyond the identification and content of the accounts and pages removed. The document provides for the request for registration data, including date, time, e-mail, name, cell phone number and IP address used in the registration. The order also includes the login history and the advertising contracted for accounts and pages, including values and those responsible for payment.
The application 474/2020, by senator Alessandro Vieira (Cidadania-SE) also includes the request for the complete list of accounts and pages removed and data of the holders. Author of the PL for fake news, the parliamentarian also questions how Facebook reached those responsible, what was the interaction between accounts and removed pages, what was the engagement (number of views, likes and shares) and what was the specific irregular conduct committed by each account.
Finally, there is the requirement 475/2020, by federal deputy Rui Falcão (PT-SP), who intends to request the content of the pages removed by Facebook due to “coordinated inauthentic behavior”. Again, it is important to note that the four requirements have not yet been considered in Congress.
What is inauthentic behavior for Facebook?
Inauthentic behavior is the term used by Facebook to prevent users from falsifying their identities, using fake accounts, artificially increasing the popularity of the content they publish, or engaging in behavior designed to induce violations in accordance with Community Standards.
The platform policy states that users cannot use multiple accounts, nor conceal the purpose of pages by misleading users about who controls it. The terms also prohibit the use (coordinated or not) of accounts, pages, groups or events to confuse people or Facebook itself about the identity they represent or the popularity of content. In the statement on the deletion of accounts and pages, the company stated that:
The activity included creating fictional people pretending to be reporters, publishing content and managing Pages pretending to be news outlets. The published content was about local news and events, including politics and elections, political memes, criticism of political opposition, media organizations and journalists, and more recently about the coronavirus pandemic.
The account network of Bolsonaro employees and PSL members
Details of the fake account network were presented in an article by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab). In partnership with Facebook, the group analyzed 80 pages or accounts before they were removed. Through common properties, followers and tanning patterns, the group confirmed the existence of duplicate or fake accounts.
Part of the network removed by Facebook would have been created before the 2018 presidential election. They would be controlled by people in Brasília, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
DFRLab states that the “Bolsonaro Opressor 2.0” page, one of those removed by Facebook, was created by Tércio Arnaud Tomaz, special advisor to President Jair Bolsonaro and former assistant to councilman Carlos Bolsonaro (PSL-RJ). In addition, Tércio’s email was linked to the Instagram page “@bolsonaronewsss”, which was also deleted by the platform.
The DFRLab investigation also pointed out that Paulo Eduardo Lopes, known as Paulo Chuchu, was another operator in the fake account network. Parliamentary secretary of federal deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro, he is appointed as the owner of the page “The Brazilian Post”, removed from Facebook and Instagram. The removal included two accounts in the name of Eduardo Guimarães, another parliamentary secretary of Eduardo Bolsonaro.
Inauthentic behavior also involved the “Bolsoneas” page, which until then was maintained on Facebook and Instagram by Leonardo Rodrigues de Barros Neto. He worked at least until April 2020 at Alerj (Legislative Assembly of the State of Rio de Janeiro) as parliamentary advisor to state deputy Alana Passos.
Leonardo is the boyfriend of Vanessa Navarro, who was appointed parliamentary advisor in the office of the state representative for Rio de Janeiro, Anderson Moraes. Leonardo and Vanessa together had at least 13 Facebook or Instagram accounts that exhibited slight variations in their names.
Duplicate accounts were also used by an employee of Alesp (Legislative Assembly of the State of São Paulo). Jonathan Benetti is registered as special parliamentary secretary of the state representative for São Paulo, Colonel Nishikawa. According to DFRLab, Jonathan kept at least seven Facebook accounts, also with variations of his name.
The group removed by Facebook is “Notícias de São Bernardo do Campo”, whose administrators were the “The Brazilian Post” page, one of Jonathan Benetti’s accounts and an account in the name of Fábio Muniz. This account, however, was a profile picture of a person from New Zealand. Facebook said there was also a link from the fake account network to Flávio Bolsonaro, but DFRLab indicated it had found no evidence to link it to the senator.
In all, Facebook removed 35 accounts, 14 pages with a total of 883,000 followers and a group of 350 people. The company also identified that they spent $ 1,500 on social media ads. On Instagram, 38 accounts totaling 917 thousand followers were excluded.
Cover – Art: Henrique Pochmann / Tecnoblog / Photo: Isac Nóbrega / PR
With information: Facebook (2).