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Brazil’s Electoral Court widens its own powers to moderate content

Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court, which oversees the country’s elections, approved a resolution granting itself more powers in its ongoing fight against electoral disinformation.

Under the new rules, the court can order social media platforms and websites to remove content without a specific request from a prosecutor or a plaintiff, providing said post is identical to content banned in a previous decision. In many ways, the resolution goes against the judiciary’s design as a responsive rather than proactive branch of government, as we explained in today’s issue of the Brazil Daily newsletter.

This is not entirely unheard of in Brazil. Justice Alexandre de Moraes, who heads the Electoral Justice system and also sits on the Supreme Court, presides over the so-called ‘Fake News inquiry,’ which has been in progress since 2019 and has faced criticism for its use of highly-questionable methods .

These methods include censoring a 2019 news story that was unsavory to one of his Supreme Court peers.

The new resolution also bans any paid electoral ads — including on candidates’ own blogs and social media accounts — in the 48 hours before and 24 hours after the October 30 runoff. Current regulations already ban electoral ads on television and radio during that period, but now the prohibition was clearly extended to the internet.

Furthermore, the resolution prohibits “spreading or sharing facts known to be untrue or seriously decontextualized that affect the integrity of the electoral process, including the processes of voting and vote counting.”

Offenders could face fines of up to BRL 150,000 (USD 28,700) per hour that the allegedly false information remains online. This grants the Electoral Court unprecedented power to decide what is “true” or “contextualized.”

In recent days, the Superior Electoral Court ordered social media platforms to delete content by pro-Bolsonaro lawmakers associating former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to the legalization of drugs and abortion, and the religious persecution of Evangelicals.

In response to a request by the Lula campaign, the court also ordered YouTube to demonetize four far-right pro-Bolsonaro channels until October 31, one day after the election.

One of the channels, Brasil Paralelo, was censored. It was ordered not to air a documentary espousing a conspiracy theory that the murder attempt on Jair Bolsonaro in 2018 was part of a wider conspiracy. Two Federal Police investigations concluded that the attacker, Adélio Bispo, acted as a lone wolf.

Even before today’s resolution, Justice Moraes censored a digital media outlet earlier this month and ordered President Jair Bolsonaro and several of his allies to delete references to a story claiming that Marcos Williams Herbas Camacho, the leader of Brazil’s largest criminal gang, “declared his vote ” for Lula.

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