The problem, says Santos, is that often platforms do not appreciate the potential impact of “anti-democratic” content. “They’ll take down content that incites violence,” she says. “But when people are calling for a military intervention, for example, they do not clearly associate military intervention with violence.”
While every expert who spoke to WIRED noted that disinformation in Brazil spans nearly all social platforms, as well as private messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram, Marco Ruediger, director of the school of communication at Fundação Getulio Vargas, says that more visual platforms like YouTube and Instagram tend to be the preferred mediums for spreading disinformation. TikTok, while popular, was seemingly less impactful.
Images and video can also provide a way for bad actors to escape text-based moderation systems. “On YouTube very frequently we see influencers taking screenshots of posts and putting them into their videos,” says Braga. “That doesn’t get flagged and taken down.” This means that even if a piece of content is removed on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, a screenshot can live on in a YouTube video that continues to circulate.
Braga also says that unevenness in content moderation, which is often strongest in English, means that altered or dubbed content might stay up, even if the English version is removed.
Meta spokesperson Corey Chambliss says the company designated Brazil a high-risk location in advance of the October presidential election and has been removing content encouraging people to invade government buildings. He also says that Meta is designating the storming of Brazil’s Congress a “violating event” and is cooperating with Brazilian authorities.
YouTube spokesperson Ivy Choi says the platform is removing content that violates its guidelines, “including livestreams and videos inciting violence,” and that it is preventing ads from running alongside content that incites violence. Santos, however, was able to find Brazilian YouTube influencers streaming the insurrection who included a QR code that viewers could use to donate to the insurrectionist cause using the Brazilian payment portal Pix.
Ella Irwin, vice president of trust and safety at Twitter, says her team has “been removing content that violates our policies, including any content that attempts to incite violence.” Irwin declined to say what steps Twitter has taken to safeguard the platform during and after the Brazilian presidential election, but she claimed it is “prioritizing the processing of any legal requests for information related to any criminal investigations.”
Braga of Equis Research says that any steps taken by platforms, or even lawmakers, in Brazil or overseas, will unlikely be enough to stop history from repeating again. “Disinformation is a borderless phenomenon with limited jurisdiction,” says Braga. “Countries only have jurisdiction over their own borders, and social media companies only have jurisdiction over their own platforms.”