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Facebook removes fake accounts tied to Bolsonaro

July 9, 2020

Fake personas of journalists posted about local elections and shared memes. Employees of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, his two sons and two prominent lawmakers tried to hide their connection to the network.

Brasiliens Präsident Bolsonaro
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/E. Peres

Social media giant Facebook Inc suspended a network of duplicate and fake accounts linked to employees of Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro and his two sons.

The accounts worked together to spread disinformation across its social media platforms, the company said in a statement on Wednesday.

Employees of lawmakers Anderson Moraes and Alana Passos, as well as individuals associated with Brazil's far-right Social Liberal Party also had links to the network.

There had been efforts to disguise who was behind the network activity, said the Facebook statement.

The networks were removed as part of Facebook Inc's crack-down on "coordinated inauthentic behavior." The company defines this as when groups of people or pages work together to mislead others about who they are or what they are doing, violating the company's rules.

The crack down on networks focuses on behavior rather than content – the networks were not necessarily spreading fake news.

Read more: EU calls for greater regulation of US tech companies

A total of 35 Facebook accounts, 14 pages, a group and 38 accounts by Facebook-owned Instagram were removed in the crackdown in Brazil.

How did the network function?

The network made fake personas of reporters and news outlets. They then posted about local news and events, including domestic politics and elections.

The networks also spread memes, and criticized the political opposition, media organizations and journalists.

Most recently, the network also posted about the coronavirus pandemic.

The network spent around $1,500 (€1,300) on advertising on Facebook, paid for in Brazilian reais.

The pages had over 880,000 followers and the Instagram account had over 900,000 followers.

Politicians not directly involved

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy, said there was no evidence the politicians themselves had operated the accounts.

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"What we can prove is that employees of those offices are engaged on our platforms in this type of behavior," he told news agency Reuters.

Facebook has come under increasing pressure in recent weeks to better police free speech and political groups on its platform.

Hundreds of advertisers have joined a boycott aimed at forcing the company to block extremist content on its site. Multiple employees walked out last month over CEO Mark Zuckerberg's decision not to challenge inflammatory posts Trump.

Kate Martyr Editor and video producer at DW's Asia Desk and News Digital