Created in May 2020 to combat the misinformation on the platform, the Facebook Oversight Committee — a kind of “STF of the social network” — has a new Brazilian case in its sights. The agency will now analyze a publication made by a state medical council in Brazil, dated March this year, which distorts information from the World Health Organization (WHO) to contest the effectiveness of the lockdown in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the post, which has been viewed about 32 times and has had more than 270 shares, there is an alleged quote by David Nabarro, from WHO, claiming that “lockdown does not save lives and makes the poor poorer”. In addition, the publication on Facebook relates the increase in the number of cases in Amazonas with the stoppage made in the region.


The problem is that this is a misleading publication, taken out of context: the WHO points out that the lockdown can have a negative impact on the economy and is not sustainable in the long term. However, the international organization recognizes the importance of the practice to curb the transmission of the coronavirus and has not stated, at any time, that the suspension of activities is ineffective in view of the global health crisis.

Faced with the post, Facebook itself sent the case to the Committee, on June 2nd. However, the decision is not as simple as it sounds. That's because the social network even claimed that although the content does not “violate Facebook policies, it can still be read by some people as an advocate of certain security measures during the pandemic".

lockdown illustration
A Brazilian publication used WHO out-of-context statements to repudiate lockdown. Photo: Cristiana Isidoro/Shutterstock

The period for the Committee to issue a decision is, on average, 90 days. This means that the decision is expected to be released in the coming weeks and could send an important message about Facebook's policies against cases of misinformation in its platform.

With this, the publication becomes the second Brazilian occurrence to be discussed by the Committee, but the first to be related to the problem of misinformation. The first involved a publication with images showing symptoms of breast cancer. The post had been deleted for featuring photographs of female breasts — a violation of Facebook's community rules — but was later restored after an appeal by the publication's creator.

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While the verdict of Mark Zuckerberg's Social Networking Committee does not come to light, entities are discussing the best way to solve the case. The InternetLab law and technology research center, for example, believes that branding the publication how misleading would be the best option. "Even if there is no imminent risk to physical integrity to justify the exclusion or limitation of the visibility of the content on the social network, it would be appropriate for Facebook to label the content as uninformative, providing adequate information to users", said the entity.

As for Diogo Coutinho, a professor at the USP Law School, the decision could result in a removal of content by Facebook. “In this particular case I think it's reasonable for the post to be removed because it's extremely problematic — it has, at the very least, garbled sentences. I understand that this is a post that can cause harm to people”, he said.

Regardless of the decision taken, Facebook will need to keep in mind that the verdict will set a precedent for future similar events. Therefore, the social network needs to provide a clear standard for how it handles misinformation on its platform, especially in times of health crisis.

Despite this, the discussion is seen as an important movement in the regulation of digital platforms. Although the Committee's maintenance can mean something of high cost in the long term — with investments in excess of US$ 130 million —, if successful, the model could become a reference, being adopted by the other social networks.

Source: Estadão

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