April 14, 2022

A Brazilian bill designed to contain the spread of mis- and disinformation narrowly failed an “accelerated pathway” vote Wednesday in the lower house of Congress, one of two representative voting bodies in Brazil’s government. The future of  PL 2630 — also known as the “Fake News” bill —  is now up in the air.

Despite the bill’s aim to contain the spread of mis- and disinformation, it faces predictable resistance from tech companies and, perhaps more surprisingly, independent fact-checking organizations in the region, which say they are concerned with the bill’s potential impact.

Some of the bill’s mandates include:

  • Mass text-messaging would be prohibited for political purposes.
  • Any foreign company would be required to have legal representation in Brazil.
  • Tech companies would be required to publish reports for each instance of content demonetization and removal.
  • Politicians would no longer be able to earn Brazilian Real for their posts to social media.
  • YouTube would be required to pay all news operations for content on its platform.

Executives at YouTube have lamented that what “journalism” means isn’t clearly defined in the bill, and that channels would have to be notified when content gets demoted (and for what reason) — a gargantuan task given the scale of YouTube’s platform. Certain legislators in Brazil would also no longer be bound to YouTube’s service rules.

“Under this bill, members of Brazil’s legislative branch wouldn’t have to follow our Terms of Service or Community Guidelines. And every time our system demotes content for any reason, we’d have to inform similar channels, burying creators with countless notifications,” the chief business officer of YouTube, Robert Kyncl, wrote in a Twitter thread.

The resistance toward the bill is shared by local fact-checking organizations.

“I believe that the section about payment for journalistic content — as it is — could be very harmful not only to fact checkers, but to journalism as a whole,” said Bernardo Barbosa, assistant editor of UOL Confere, a verified signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network,“because it does not define clearly what is journalistic content or what is a journalism company. We know by now that many outlets that spread disinformation try to look like a legitimate journalistic operation.”

Tai Nalon, co-founder and executive director of Aos Fatos, said, “It is hard to assess what is professional journalism, and who should be able to receive such subsidies from the platforms. I think that fact-checkers could also be vulnerable to judicial abuse, because some congressmen could be angry that we are publishing something says what they’re sharing is false or misleading. It makes us vulnerable.”

Though Nalon agreed with YouTube’s general sentiment that the law could lead to additional funding for false information disseminators, she also said that some big tech companies are already sponsoring purveyors of misinformation via ad revenue.

Since the accelerated voting pathway for PL 2630/2020 was denied, the question remains when the vote will happen.

Interesting fact-checks

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2022. (AP Photo/ Susan Walsh)

Quick hits

Barack Obama. (Shutterstock)

From the news:

From/for the community:

  • Our Spread the Facts grant program will distribute $800,000 to distinguished IFCN-verified signatories working to curb the spread of misinformation on WhatsApp.
  • We’re proud to announce our recipients for the Climate Misinformation Grant Program. IFCN will grant $800,000 to 10 fact-checking organizations across the globe to help curb misinformation about the climate. Meet our recipients.
  • Experienced fact-checking organizations from around the world were granted $300,000 to develop detailed curriculums for mentee organizations.
  • IFCN received $800,000 from the Google News Initiative.

Events and training

  • Applications for mentees for the Global Mentorship Program are now open. Six mentor organizations will mentor up to five organizations in a variety of topics, including how to use innovative formats to deliver fact-checks, video storytelling, diversify income sources and more. All mentees who complete the mentorship program will receive $5,000. The deadline to apply for the program is April 22.

Thanks for reading. If you are a fact-checker and you’d like your work/projects/achievements highlighted in the next edition, send us an email at factually@poynter.org by Tuesday.

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Seth Smalley is a reporter at Poynter and the IFCN. Get in touch at seth@poynter.org or on Twitter @sethsalex.
Seth Smalley

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