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Facebook has an apparent double standard over COVID-19 misinformation in Brazil, researchers say

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Researchers want Facebook’s Oversight Board to evaluate the platform’s exemption of politicians from fact-checking after new research from Brazillian fact-checking organization Agência Lupa pointed to 29 examples of President Jair Bolsonaro spreading COVID-19 misinformation.

“What they’ve done is they’ve shown based on the evidence in the report that, depending on the country that you’re in, the policies are applied in very different ways,” said Peter Cunliffe-Jones, a senior adviser to the International Fact-Checking Network. “If that flawed exemption policy is one the Facebook Oversight Board can review, it should.”

The research, first reported on by Brazillian news outlet Folha de Sao Paulo, looked at Facebook videos and live sessions where Bolsonaro appeared to question the merits of social distancing, promote debunked falsehoods about mask-wearing and advocate for the usage of the controversial malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19.

“Output on platforms drives news coverage (as recent research showed) and it creates a sense of normalizing certain types of problematic speech,” said Claire Wardle, U.S. director of the journalism nonprofit First Draft, referring to a recently published study by her organization. “The Oversight Board should absolutely get involved here. At the moment they’re focused on looking at decisions based on what was taken down, but this is simply not good enough from my perspective.”

Facebook pushed back on the report’s findings, saying in a statement to the IFCN that none of the examples violated the company’s policies against COVID-19 misinformation.

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“While we prohibit false claims about unproven treatments and safety measures like social distancing, we allow discussions about the impact of policy measures like lockdowns or developments in scientific research,” the statement read. “These policies apply to everyone and we’ve enforced them against elected officials worldwide, including in Brazil.”

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Facebook took down a video posted by Bolsonaro in March 2020 that claimed hydroxychloroquine was “working in all places” as a treatment for COVID-19. In the list of posts collected by Agencia Lupa, Bolsonaro used a different tactic by emphasizing the lack of side effects for a list of experimental treatments, including hydroxychloroquine, as a reason Brazilians should at least try them as a way to end the pandemic.

Lupa also flagged a claim by Bolsonaro that cited a flawed German study to argue mask-wearing can be harmful to children. This study has been debunked by American fact-checking organization Health Feedback, and the claim appears to contravene the platform’s policy on discouraging good health practices. However, Facebook’s statement maintained none of the flagged posts violated its policies on COVID-19 misinformation.

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, sees Facebook’s lack of action as a double standard.

“Much of the most consequential misinformation come from major politicians, and our research documents that the public knows this,” he said. “Exempting politicians from policies meant to reduce the spread of misinformation may keep them happy, but I think the public will wonder why powerful people are so often exempt from rules meant to apply to the rest of us.”

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Cunliffe-Jones empathized with the challenge of an American company like Facebook creating a misinformation policy that applies globally.

“I think if they were more transparent about the process, they’d acknowledge that they do know and understand the U.S. market better than others, and there’s a rollout of those processes,” Cunliffe-Jones said. But he emphasized that Facebook has an outsized influence on global discourse, and argued the company needs to put more resources into making sure its policies around COVID-19 misinformation are consistently and effectively applied.

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“The point of applying policies, particularly around misinformation that’s a threat to public health, is to protect the public,” Cunliffe-Jones said. “What that’s saying is that the public in Brazil, or next time it might be in India or it might be in Tanzania or it might be elsewhere, isn’t as worthy of protection as the public of France or the U.K. or the U.S.”

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Facebook-Meta Earns the ‘Worst Company of 2021’ Title in This Survey

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Facebook has had its share of controversies this year. The company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents.

Facebook parent Meta has been named the Worst Company of the Year (2021) by Yahoo Finance respondents. According to the publication, an “open-ended” survey was published on Yahoo Finance on December 4 and 5, where 1,541 respondents participated. Facebook received 8 percent of the write-in vote, but respondents were seemingly mad about the Robinhood trading app as well. Electric truck startup Nikola, which was named last year’s worst company by the same publication also faced respondents ire.

Yahoo Finance notes, “Facebook has had its share of controversies this year.” Starting in January, Meta-owned WhatsApp got caught up in a huge controversy after the messaging app announced a new privacy policy (Terms of Service). WhatsApp said it would collect user information and share it with third-party apps for a better user experience. However, the app gave users no choice but later made modifications to the policy under pressure. Similarly, the company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents showing the company’s problematic practices. It was revealed that Meta-owned Instagram had a negative impact on teenage girls, but the company did almost nothing to rectify the problem.

Yahoo Finance even highlights, “At the same time, some critics, including conservatives, say Facebook over-policed the platform’s speech and stifled their voices.” Critics also blame Facebook and other social media platforms for not curbing hate speech that led to Capitol Building riots.

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However, around 30 percent of Yahoo Finance readers said that Facebook or Meta could redeem itself. One respondent suggested that the company could issue a formal apology for negligence and donate a sizable amount of its profits to a foundation to help reverse its harm.

On the other hand, respondents chose Microsoft as the Company of the Year (2021). The Satya Nadella-led company touched the trillion-mark this year and introduced notable upgrades. The most notable is the Windows 11 OS update that succeeds Windows 10.

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Facebook pays 1.7 Cr fine to Russia after failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal

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In the latest legal tussle with Russia over controversial social media regulation laws, Facebook paid 17 million roubles (Rs 1.7 Crore) for failing to remove content deemed illegal by Moscow. With a threat of potential larger fines looming, Facebook parent company Meta, owned by Mark Zuckerberg, is scheduled to face court next week over repeated violations of Russian legislation on content, Interfax News Agency reported. As per the latest updates, the social media giant could be fined a percentage of its annual revenue.

In October, Moscow sent state bailiffs to enforce the collection of 17 million roubles. Meanwhile, as per Interfax report citing a federal bailiffs’ database, on Sunday, there were more enforcement proceedings against the company. Apart from the popular social media app, Telegram has also paid 15 million roubles in fines for failing to comply with the Russian social media legislations that came into force in 2016.

Facebook pays $53k to Russia for refusing controversial social media laws

It is pertinent to mention that Facebook has locked horns with Moscow earlier in November, resulting in it paying 4 million roubles ($53,000) over its refusal to adhere to Russian data localisation laws, the Moscow Times reported. The Moscow court on November 25 had said that Facebook paid the fine levied in February, following which all proceedings against the US-based social media giant. The payment comes against the litigation filed against the company in 2018, alongside Twitter. The tech companies were also forced to pay an additional 3000 rubles ($40) for failing to comply with user data sharing rules as per the law. The Russian authorities have also previously blocked LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft, for failing to abide by the laws.

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Russian social media laws

As per Moscow Times, under the Russian social media regulation laws, all foreign technology companies are required to store data related to Russian customers and users on servers located in Russia. Additionally, the Russian tech companies will also have to share encryption data with the federal authorities as well as record user calls, messages and civil society group conversation records. The apparatus is said to be a severe breach of privacy rights and unfettered back-door access to personal data that could be used to harass Kremlin critics.

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

Meta has announced the arrival of a new Split Payments feature in Facebook Messenger. This feature, as the name suggests, will let you calculate and split expenses with others right from Facebook Messenger. This feature essentially looks to bring an easier method to share the cost of bills and expenses — for example, splitting a dinner bill with friends. Using this new Split Payment feature, Facebook Messenger users will be able to split bills evenly or modify the contribution for each individual, including their own.

The company took to its blog post to announce the new Split Payment feature in Facebook Messenger. 9to5Mac reports that this new bill splitting feature is still in beta and will be exclusive to US users at first. The rollout will begin early next week. As mentioned, it will help users share the cost of bills, expenses, and payments. This feature is especially useful for those who share an apartment and need to split the monthly rent and other expenses with their mates. It could also come handy at a group dinner with many people.

With Split Payments, users can add the number of people the expense needs to be divided with and, by default, the amount entered will be divided in equal parts. A user can also modify each person’s contribution including their own. To use Split Payments, click the Get Started button in a group chat or the Payments Hub in Messenger. Users can modify the contribution in the Split Payments option and send a notification to all the users who need to make payments. After entering a personalised message and confirming your Facebook Pay details, the request will be sent and viewable in the group chat thread.

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Once someone has made the payment, you can mark their transaction as ‘completed’. The Split Payment feature will automatically take into account your share as well and calculate the amount owed accordingly.


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Tasneem Akolawala is a Senior Reporter for Gadgets 360. Her reporting expertise encompasses smartphones, wearables, apps, social media, and the overall tech industry. She reports out of Mumbai, and also writes about the ups and downs in the Indian telecom sector. Tasneem can be reached on Twitter at @MuteRiot, and leads, tips, and releases can be sent to tasneema@ndtv.com.

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