from the well-that-will-work-out-just-great dept
Ah, great. Just after Australia made it clear that media organizations are liable for comments on social media (demonstrating one aspect of a world without intermediary liability protections), Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has announced new social media rules that effectively force social media sites to keep all content online (demonstrating the flipside to a world without intermediary liability protections). The two most important things that Section 230 does — limiting liability for 3rd party intermediaries and freeing websites of liability for moderation choices — each going away completely in two separate countries in the same week.
To be clear, the rule in Brazil can only stay on the books for 120 days — since it’s a “provisional measure” from the President — and if they’re not enacted into law by the Brazilian Congress by then, they’ll expire (and there’s at least some suggestion that the Brazilian Congress has no interest). But, still, these rules are dangerous.
Under the new policy, tech companies can remove posts only if they involve certain topics outlined in the measure, such as nudity, drugs and violence, or if they encourage crime or violate copyrights; to take down others, they must get a court order. That suggests that, in Brazil, tech companies could easily remove a nude photo, but not lies about the coronavirus. The pandemic has been a major topic of disinformation under Mr. Bolsonaro, with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all having removed videos from him that pushed unproven drugs as coronavirus cures.
Imagine needing to get a court order to remove content? That’s ridiculous. Bolsonaro’s government put out a twitter thread (in English) claiming that this is the country “taking the global lead in defending free speech” when the reality is exactly the opposite. Compelled speech, which includes the compelled hosting of speech, is the exact opposite of “defending free speech.” Here’s what the government is saying about this dangerous proposal:
Brazilian government is taking the global lead in defending free speech on social networks and protecting the right of citizens to freedom of thought and expression.
As noted, compelled speech is not defending free speech. And freedom of expression does not mean you get to force someone else to let you speak on their property.
The Provisional Measure issued today by the Brazilian government forbids the removal of content that may result in any kind of “censorship of political, ideological, scientific, artistic or religious order”.
Hilariously, though, it does allow for the removal of copyright infringing material, which already undermines the idea that it does not allow for censorship of “artistic” works.
It is also guaranteed that the social network will have to justify the removal of content under the terms of Brazilian laws. Without a just cause, the social network will have to restore the removed content.
This may be the most pernicious part here, because (as we’ve discussed before), the most bad faith, abusive trolls are the ones who are most likely to demand justification — and then to act shocked and pretend to be offended at claims that they were acting as bad faith, abusive trolls. This provision just allows trolls to make an even bigger nuisance of themselves. Which seems to be exactly what Bolsonaro wants, knowing he has more bad faith, abusive trolls on his side.
This measure forbids selective deplatforming by requiring that social media provide a just cause for the suspension of services and restore access should the suspension be considered unlawful. This measure is based on precedent in Brazilian law and freedom of expression.
Compelled speech is never freedom of expression. As for “precedent,” Brazil once led the way in passing smart internet rules. This makes a mockery of them.
Attention: the law does not prevent the social network from removing content that violates Brazilian law, such as child pornography. The Brazilian government stands for both freedom and democracy!
That’s a pretty damn Orwellian statement right there.
This measure has been emitted as a result of ongoing concern with actions taken by social media groups that have been perceived as harmful to healthy debate and freedom of expression in Brazil, and hope it will serve to help restore online political dialogue in the country.
Basically, we’re doing this because our President is not doing well in the polls leading up to a national election, and has been taking a page from Trump’s playbook and talking about how he can only lose by election fraud — and we need to make sure that social media companies don’t actually stop our bullshit propaganda from spreading widely.
The real question now is how will the social media companies respond. According to the NY Times:
Facebook said that the ?measure significantly hinders our ability to limit abuse on our platforms? and that the company agrees ?with legal experts and specialists who view the measure as a violation of constitutional rights.?
Twitter said the policy transforms existing internet law in Brazil, ?as well as undermines the values and consensus it was built upon.?
YouTube said it was still analyzing the law before making any changes. ?We?ll continue to make clear the importance of our policies, and the risks for our users and creators if we can?t enforce them,? the company said.
There’s also this:
In July, YouTube removed 15 of Mr. Bolsonaro’s videos for spreading misinformation about the coronavirus. And late last month, YouTube said that, under orders from a Brazilian court, it had stopped payments to 14 pro-Bolsonaro channels that had spread false information about next year’s presidential elections.
Brazil’s Supreme Court has also been investigating disinformation operations in the country. Mr. Bolsonaro became a target of those investigations last month, and several of his allies have been questioned or detained.
Of course, it seems notable that it was just a few years ago that Brazil arrested a Facebook exec because the company refused to hand over information on WhatsApp users, and has, at times, blocked the entirety of WhatsApp in the country. So, it would be interesting to see what will happen if the companies refuse to follow these ridiculous rules.
But, between this and what happened in Australia, we’ll now get to see two examples of the dangerous situation that happens when you don’t have strong intermediary liability protections, including for the ability to moderate websites how best you see fit.