On April 28, Felipe Neto, a Brazilian YouTuber with more than 45 million followers, was angry. He had just received a message from YouTube warning him about PL2630, a bill in the Brazilian National Congress called the “Fake News Law” that would regulate online platforms. Influencers like Neto, the company said, could be forced to remove content to avoid lawsuits, and the government could control parts of the YouTube platform.
For Neto, that warning was itself fake news. He felt that the message, and a similar post on the youtube blog, mischaracterized the proposed legislation. “The attempt to manipulate creators against the bill was clear,” says Neto. In response, he tweeted the youtube message along with his own responses to his statements, advising other content producers to “read carefully, because I’ve never seen such a strong attempt to use creators to defend Google’s interests.”
Neto was responding to just one part of a multi-pronged effort in Brazil by Google and several other major US technology companies to defeat a bill that sought to impose a new regulatory structure on them. It would require platforms and search engines to find and remove hate speech, misinformation and other illegal content or be subject to fines.
In the weeks leading up to a congressional vote scheduled for earlier this month, Brazilians have noted a barrage of ads and statements from companies rejecting the proposed law. Ads on Instagram, Facebook and in national newspapers linked to Google blog post calling for a lengthy debate on the bill. The publication said that some parts of the bill had not been debated in Congress and that the timing of the vote had limited “the space for discussion and the possibilities to improve the text in Congress.”
Last week, just 24 hours before the Brazilian National Congress voted on the bill, users in the country who opened the Google home page received a link below the search box that read: “The bill of fake news could add to the confusion about what’s going on.” true or false in Brazil”. Google remote the link after the country’s justice ministry said it would fine the company up to $200,000 an hour for what the agency called a “propaganda campaign” that violates consumer protection laws.
“You have to make it transparent that someone paid for [a message], which is the position of a company, and that is why it is there,” says Estela Aranha, secretary of digital rights at the Brazilian Ministry of Justice. Rafael Corrêa, director of communications and public affairs at Google Brazil, describes the company’s push against the bill as a “marketing campaign to give greater visibility to our concerns” and compared it to previous campaigns on issues of public interest. like promoting the vote or Covid -19 vaccines. He says the notice sent to Neto and others was an attempt to explain the “legitimate” risks of the bill.
Voting on the bill stalled last week due to an influx of last-minute amendments, but the way US tech platforms, notably Google, have tried to shape public debate on the law has aroused further concern among experts and government officials in Brazil. The industry’s attempts to fend off the new regulation may now lead to it receiving even greater scrutiny.
wake up call
The need for regulation of social networks, for some in Brazil, has been felt greater since January 8, when thousands of people stormed the National Congress in support of the defeated right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro. Like the assault on the US Congress in 2021, the Brazilian uprising was fueled on platforms like Telegram, with activist groups finding that ads questioning the integrity of the election were repeatedly leaked through Internet systems. Goal. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known as “Lula”, has been open about the need to regular platforms more aggressively.
“The platforms weren’t ready, but more importantly, they weren’t willing to crack down on hate speech and misinformation around the election,” says Flora Arduini, campaign manager for advocacy group Ekō. “For the Lula government, January 8 was really the moment when they felt: ‘We need to carry this debate forward to regulate the platforms effectively.’”