Facebook is missing election misinformation in Brazil ads

By BARBARA ORTUTAY, AP Technology Writer

Facebook has failed to spot blatant election-related misinformation in ads ahead of Brazil’s 2022 election, a new report from Global Witness has found, continuing a pattern of not catching material that violates its policies, which the group considers labeled “alarming”.

The ads contained false information about the country’s upcoming elections, such as promoting the wrong election date, incorrect voting methods and questioning the integrity of the election.

This is the fourth time the London-based nonprofit has tested Meta’s ability to uncover blatant violations of the rules of its most popular social media platform — and the fourth such test that Facebook has failed. In the previous three instances, Global Witness submitted ads containing violent hate speech to see if Facebook’s controls — either human reviewers or artificial intelligence — would detect them. They have not.

“Facebook has identified Brazil as one of its priority countries in which to invest dedicated resources to combat election-related disinformation,” said Jon Lloyd, Senior Advisor at Global Witness. “So we really wanted to test their systems and give them enough time to act. And with the US Midterms around the corner, Meta just has to get this right – and do it now.”

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Brazil’s national elections will be held on October 2 amid high tension and disinformation that threatens to discredit the electoral process. Facebook is the country’s most popular social media platform. In a statement, Meta said it was “preparing extensively for the 2022 elections in Brazil.”

“We have implemented tools that promote reliable information and flag election-related posts, established a direct channel for the Supreme Electoral Court to send us potentially harmful content for review, and continue to work closely with Brazilian authorities and researchers,” the company said.

In 2020, Facebook began requiring advertisers who want to run ads related to elections or politics to complete an authorization process and include a “Paid for by” disclaimer on those ads, similar to what is done in the US. when Russia used rubles to pay for political ads aimed at fomenting divisions and unrest among Americans.

Global Witness said it broke those rules when it submitted the test ads (which were approved for publication but never actually published). The group placed the ads from outside of Brazil, from Nairobi and London, which should have raised red flags.

It also didn’t require a “paid by” disclaimer to appear on the ads, and it didn’t use a Brazilian payment method — all safeguards Facebook put in place to prevent abuse of its platform by malicious actors trying to interfere in elections the world.

“It is very clear from the results of this and other research that their content moderation skills and the integrity systems they employ to mitigate some of the risk during election periods are simply not working,” Lloyd said.

The group uses ads as a test, not regular posts, because Meta claims they hold ads to an “even stricter” standard than regular, unpaid posts, according to their paid ads help page.

But judging by the four investigations, Lloyd said that wasn’t really clear.

“We have to constantly take Facebook at its word. And without a verified independent third-party audit, we just can’t blame Meta or other tech companies for what they say they’re doing,” he said.

Global Witness submitted 10 ads to Meta that appeared to violate its policies regarding election-related advertising. For example, they contained false information about when and where to vote and questioned the integrity of Brazil’s voting machines – an echo of disinformation used by malicious actors to destabilize democracies around the world.

This will be the first election in Brazil since far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who is seeking re-election, came to power. Bolsonaro has repeatedly attacked the integrity of the country’s electoral system.

“Disinformation played a big part in the 2018 election, and this year’s election is already marred by reports of widespread disinformation being poured from the very top: Bolsonaro is already sowing doubts about the legitimacy of the election result, inspiring fears of a US-inspired election Wahl Leads ‘Stop the Steal’ Style Jan. 6 Coup Attempt,” Global Witness said.

In its previous research, the group found that Facebook did not catch hate speech in Myanmar, where ads used an insult to refer to people of East Indian or Muslim origin and call for their deaths; in Ethiopia, where the ads used dehumanizing hate speech incited the killing of people belonging to each of Ethiopia’s three main ethnic groups; and in Kenya, where reports spoke of beheadings, rapes and bloodshed.

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