Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro issued a decree Monday that changes the rules of content moderation on social media, a move that critics argue could hinder the fight against disinformation.
The decree goes into effect immediately but must be ratified by Congress in order to become law. It aims to combat “the arbitrary and unjust deletion of accounts, profiles and content by providers,” the federal communications secretariat said.
Far-right leader Bolsonaro, who has himself had content removed from his social media accounts for spreading disinformation about Covid-19, says that the suspension or removal of accounts and content that various platforms have subjected him and some of his supporters to is “censorship.”
The new provision establishes a series of hypotheses for which there would be “just cause” to remove content or suspend users — such as committing crimes or inciting violence — and imposes new rules for platforms to do so.
“This provisional measure significantly hinders our ability to limit abuse on our platforms,” a Facebook spokesperson told AFP. “We agree with legal experts and specialists who view the measure as a violation of constitutional rights.”
Alessandro Molon, an opposition politician and rapporteur of Brazil’s bill of rights for the internet (MCI), said he was preparing legal action to overturn the presidential decree.
“Its objective is not to protect freedom of expression, the MCI already does that,” Molon said. “What (Bolsonaro) wants is to prevent the disinformation and hate speech that he and his supporters disseminate from continuing to be removed from the platforms.”
Bolsonaro announced the decree on the eve of Brazil’s Independence Day, when his supporters are set to take to the streets of major cities throughout the country.
Tensions are running high, as anti-Bolsonaro protests have been planned in the same cities, and clashes between the groups could occur.
With polls putting Bolsonaro on track to lose badly to leftist ex-leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in next year’s presidential elections, the ex-army captain is hoping to use the rally to energize his supporters.
Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro was discharged from hospital on Sunday having spent four days receiving treatment for an intestinal obstruction.
The far right leader was originally taken to a military hospital in the capital Brasilia on Wednesday after suffering persistent hiccups that had lasted around 10 days.
Later that day he was transferred to the private Vila Nova Star hospital in Sao Paulo.
“I had to go on a diet, I did what I had to do. I wanted to leave from day one, but they wouldn’t let me. I hope that in about 10 days I will be able to eat a rib eye steak,” Bolsonaro told reporters as he left the hospital.
“It seems that my stomach was on fire. The cause was an intestinal obstruction, which is common in those like me that have undergone surgery, after the stabbing,” said Bolsonaro, who spoke to journalist for half an hour.
There had been fears Bolsonaro, 66, might need surgery to clear the obstruction, although that was quickly ruled out.
He has undergone surgery six times since he was stabbed in the abdomen in 2018 on the campaign trail.
On Thursday the hospital had said he was “evolving satisfactorily” while his legislator son, Eduardo Bolsonaro said doctors had removed “close to one liter (a quarter of a gallon) of liquid” from the president’s stomach that was caused by the obstruction, considerably alleviating the pain.
While in hospital, Bolsonaro continued to work and was very active on social media, publishing photos and commenting on political subjects.
Because of his abdominal problems, Bolsonaro has been told to “chew food well, eat lighter meals, exercise, walk,” head of the medical team at the hospital, Antonio Macedo said on Saturday.
Bolsonaro’s health scare came at a difficult time for the president who last week saw his disapproval rating climb to an all-time high.
The Senate has also launched an investigation over his handling of the pandemic, the seriousness of which he repeatedly downplayed and which has cost almost 540,000 lives in Brazil. The investigation was extended by 90 days on Wednesday.
Bolsonaro, who contracted Covid-19 last year, is also being investigated by the public prosecutor for allegedly failing to act on an embezzlement tip-off regarding coronavirus vaccine purchases.
The opposition is pushing for the president of the chamber of deputies to open impeachment proceedings against Bolsonaro.
President Jair Bolsonaro will replace all three commanders of Brazil’s armed forces, his government said on Tuesday, the latest upheaval in Brasilia as the far-right leader braces against mounting criticism over an explosion of Covid-19 deaths.
The exit of the Army, Navy, and Air Force chiefs came a day after Bolsonaro overhauled his cabinet, replacing the foreign, defense, and justice ministers as well as his chief of staff, attorney general, and government secretary.
Last week, he also installed his fourth health minister of the pandemic.
The turmoil comes as the government struggles to control a deadly surge of Covid-19 in Brazil, which has already killed more than 317,000 people in the country — pushing many hospitals to the brink of collapse — with a record of 3,780 deaths in the last 24 hours alone.
Bolsonaro, who comes up for re-election in October 2022, faces sliding popularity and growing pressure over his handling of the pandemic, including from key allies in Congress and the business world.
His attacks on lockdowns, face masks, and vaccines have become fodder for critics, with Brazil ranking only behind the United States in terms of a number of cases and fatalities.
The defense ministry did not give a reason for the departure of Army General Edson Pujol, Navy Admiral Ilques Barbosa, and Air Force Lieutenant-Brigadier Antonio Carlos Bermudes.
Some Brazilian media reported the trio had resigned in protest at Bolsonaro’s surprise decision to replace defense minister Fernando Azevedo.
“For the first time in history, the commanders of all three branches of the armed forces presented their joint resignation in disagreement with the president,” said newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo.
– ‘Uncomfortable’ –
Azevedo himself resigned because he was “uncomfortable with Bolsonaro’s use of the military for political ends,” journalist Merval Pereira wrote in the newspaper Globo.
There were signs the commanders of the armed forces were uncomfortable, too, particularly Pujol.
He said last November the military “doesn’t want to get involved in politics.”
The army chief had also called fighting Covid-19 “our generation’s most important mission” and once shunned Bolsonaro’s outstretched hand at an official ceremony, offering a socially distanced elbow bump instead.
Bolsonaro, a former army captain, frequently boasts of having the military’s backing, and has packed his government with officers.
He is openly nostalgic for Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship, despite its rights violations, including the kidnapping and torture of dissidents.
The armed forces have since carefully rebuilt an apolitical image of national service.
But Bolsonaro’s hardline base has put that to the test with calls to reinstall military rule with him at the top — talk the president is accused of fanning.
Bolsonaro’s new defense minister, General Walter Braga Netto, said Tuesday the military dictatorship which took power on March 31, 1964, was something to be “celebrated.”
“The Armed Forces assumed the responsibility of pacifying the country, taking on the burden of reorganizing it and guaranteeing the democratic freedoms that we enjoy today,” he said.
There was no official word on the reasons for Azevedo’s exit, but he said in a parting statement he was proud to have “preserved the armed forces as an institution of the state.”
Vice President Hamilton Mourao, an army general, said there was “zero” risk of an anti-democratic intervention by the military against Congress or the courts.
“You can put whomever you like (as commanders), there will never be an institutional rupture. The armed forces will be on the side of legality, always,” he said.
The military overhaul is part of the reform launched Monday by Bolsonaro, who last week appointed Marcelo Queiroga, a cardiologist, as the fourth health minister in a year.
Communications minister Fabio Faria told CNN Brazil that this is a “new moment” for the government and that Bolsonaro “resolved to move some pieces of the board,” as “all governments” do mid-term.
The president looks to be facing a tough election battle in 2022, particularly after a Supreme Court justice earlier this month overturned former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s corruption convictions, clearing the way for the leftist to mount a potential run against Bolsonaro.
Polls place the popular but controversial Lula, who was president from 2003-2010, neck and neck with Bolsonaro, at a time when the coalition that brought the president to power in January 2019 is badly frayed.
Twitter and Facebook suspended the accounts Friday of 16 allies of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro after a Supreme Court judge ordered them blocked as part of a probe into an alleged disinformation campaign.
Tension has been soaring between the far-right leader and the court, which is investigating allegations that members of his inner circle ran a social media campaign to discredit the court, as well as slander and threaten its judges.
The two US social media giants are also facing increasing pressure to act more aggressively against hate speech and false information on their platforms.
Justice Alexandre de Moraes said in his court order — which enforced an earlier May ruling — the accounts must be blocked to stop “the ongoing dissemination of fake news, slanderous accusations, threats and crimes” against the court.
The affected accounts include high-profile figures such as conservative former lawmaker Roberto Jefferson, business magnate Luciano Hang and far-right activist Sara Winter.
Visitors to their Facebook and Twitter pages in Brazil, though not other countries, saw messages indicating they were blocked.
“This content isn’t available right now,” read their Facebook pages.
A Twitter notice explained: “Account withheld in Brazil in response to a legal demand”.
A linked message said the company “was compelled to withhold the original Tweet in response to a valid legal demand, such as a court order.”
The owners of the blocked accounts reacted furiously.
Winter called the court order worthy of a “dictatorship,” while Jefferson drew a comparison to Nazi Germany.