January 7, 2021

The minute Mark Zuckerberg announced President Donald Trump’s account had been blocked from the social media platform for an indefinite time, fact-checkers outside the United States shook their heads and began a discussion. Is this policy going to be applied worldwide? Isn’t it a risky decision? Can other politicians be affected too?

Just like the United States has Donald Trump, the Philippines has Rodrigo Duterte, Brazil has Jair Bolsonaro and Venezuela has Nicolás Maduro. All four politicians are internationally known for the amount of mis/disinformation they spread and for being extremely successful on social media. So here the IFCN brings some of the first reactions to Facebook’s decision from the international fact-checking community:

Natália Leal, content director at Agência Lupa in Brazil, touched on a vital point, saying, “This discussion is actually about what is private and what is public.”

She said in a WhatsApp message that she believes “Facebook shouldn’t be seen as a public space since it develops and maintains algorithms that answer its commercial and political interests.” Public spaces should obey public interests — and keeping that in mind can be crucial when discussing the battle against misinformation that comes from powerful figures.

Leal sees Facebook’s decision as clear proof that not only Zuckerberg and Facebook — but also other social media platforms — don’t have a plan to fight powerful purveyors of mis/disinformation. But she doesn’t see that as a problem.

“These companies shouldn’t have a universal policy. The limits can’t be universally established by Facebook. If Facebook wants to take action in a certain nation, it needs to work toward a social pact that is based on and reflects the country’s constitution,” she said.

Leal also emphasized that platforms must urgently work to be clearer about what they accept and don’t accept on their feeds.

Tai Nalon, founder of the Brazilian fact-checking organization Aos Fatos, commented on Twitter that fact-checkers who have partnered with Facebook through the Third Party Fact-Checking Program aren’t allowed to flag politicians, a decision that can be seen as “extra official immunity” given to them by the social media platform.

Nalon also noted that, in 2020, posts inciting violent acts against the Brazilian Supreme Court were posted on social media and preserved by those companies.

“What is the role of these platforms when politicians elected in other countries attack national institutions?” she asked.

Gilmar Lopes, the founder of e-Farsas, another fact-checking website in Brazil, fears the impact of Trump’s ban for other reasons.

“Actions like that end up giving more traction and publicity to people like Trump and Bolsonaro. They also fuel that censorship narrative,” he said. “We can surely expect to see Bolsonaro’s supporters saying they are being censored just like Trump — when they actually aren’t.”

Ellen Tordesillas, from VeraFiles in the Philippines, has an opposite point of view. In an email to the IFCN, she said that Zuckerberg’s decision should have been taken “a long time ago” and that she would like to see Duterte being blocked too.

“It would send a strong signal to tyrants that they cannot use social media for their malevolent agenda,” she said.

Tamoa Calzadilla, the Venezuelan journalist who runs El Detector, Univision’s fact-checking team in the United States, said it isn’t that easy to compare the United States and Venezuela when it comes to politics, but that both Trump and Maduro have been acting like populists who don’t respect democracy — reason enough to support that some actions are taken by social media platforms.

“Falsehoods and conspiracy theories can really cause violence. Can really make people blindly believe in something that can actually put their lives at risk. Mass communication is key — but also delicate. It’s also a bit scary to see actions that might smell like a kind of censorship taking place, but four people died yesterday in Washington, D.C. This makes us believe something must be done.”

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Cristina Tardáguila is the International Fact-Checking Network’s Associate Director. She was born in May 1980, in Brazil, and has lived in Rio de Janeiro for…
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