Platforms should be held responsible for the spread of fake news, says Brazil's House Speaker

Brazil is finalizing a bill to target financiers of misinformation attacks. It should be voted by the end of 2020

Speaker of Brazil's Lower House of Congress Rodrigo Maia REUTERS/Adriano Machado
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  • Maia supports the bill provision which obliges WhatsApp to maintain traceability of messages so that it can reach their origin;
  • The speaker said that a recent Brazilian Supreme Court investigation into social media attacks against its members has already helped curtail these actions.

Brazilian House Speaker Rodrigo Maia said on Tuesday that lawmakers are currently finalizing the text of a bill targeting those that finance “fake news” attacks on social media sites, adding that it could be voted on by the end of this year.

According to Maia, social media platforms must face some kind of accountability for the spread of false content or misinformation, in addition to attacks made on their platforms. 

(Social media) platforms will always say that they have no responsibility, but like any means of communication, they will have to create a path to responsibility too.

Rodrigo Maia, BrAzil’s HOuse Speaker

READ ALSO: Brazil’s General Data Protection Law to take effect immediately if signed by Bolsonaro

Holding social media accountable is one of the most controversial points in the Fake News Bill, approved by the Senate and which is now being analyzed by the Lower House of Brazil’s Congress. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp claim that they cannot be held responsible for deciding whether or not to remove content and that users are accountable for content.

“Platforms, of course, will say that they are unable to resolve this and that everything is against freedom of expression and a risk for democracy, but I think that the risk of the status quo for democracy and freedom is much greater. The way people are attacked and threatened is much more serious for democracy than an attempt to move forward in a plural debate in relation to this”, he said.

Traceability of messages on WhatsApp

Maia also pointed out that the bill should keep one of the provisions approved in the Senate and criticized by WhatsApp, which obliges the messaging app to maintain the traceability of messages so that it can reach their origin. The platform sees it as a way to control users.

READ ALSO: What is the proposed fake news regulation in Brazil and how does it affect social media in the country?

Maia, however, argues that this measure is necessary so that it is possible to reach, if necessary, the source of false information and possible sponsors of its spread.

Fear of prosecution curtails attacks

Maia said that a recent Brazilian Supreme Court investigation into social media attacks against its members has already helped curtail these types of groups through the fear of prosecution.

The Supreme Court suspended 16 accounts and 12 pages of digital influencers who defend Bolsonaro on social media, including politicians, businessmen and political activists with Twitter and Facebook accounts.

READ ALSO: Fake news crackdown in Brazil opens a dangerous precedent for censorship

The draft of the Brazilian bill was approved in the Senate on June 30, but the lower house created a working group to suggest modifications. Those changes will be finalized in two weeks, Maia said.

President Jair Bolsonaro’s government opposes the bill.

“In 2019 radical movements that support the president created their own dynamic, and I have no doubt that they will try to influence (public opinion),” said Maia, an opponent of the right-wing Brazilian president. “If there are no clear rules, they will have a very big impact.”

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