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Hate, Lies, and Democracy


Luís Roberto Barroso, Professor of Constitutional Law at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, Justice at the Brazilian Supreme Court, and President of the Superior Electoral Court


I.  The Digital Revolution

The world is living under the Third Industrial Revolution–the Technological or Digital Revolution–which began in the final decades of the 20th century, and is characterized by the massification of personal computers, smartphones and, most notably, the Internet, connecting billions of people all over the planet. The Internet has revolutionized the world of social and interpersonal communication, exponentially expanding access to information, knowledge, and the public sphere. Nowadays, anyone can express their ideas and opinions, and disseminate facts on a global scale.

Before the internet, the distribution of news and opinions depended to a large extent on the professional press. It was up to them to ascertain facts, disseminate information and filter opinions according to the criteria of journalistic ethics. The Internet, with the emergence of websites, personal blogs and, above all, social media, facilitated the wide circulation of ideas, opinions, and information without any filter. The negative consequence, however, was that it also allowed the spread of ignorance, lies and the practice of crimes of varied nature.

II.  Rise of Social Media[1]

One of the most significant implications of the Digital Revolution was the rise of social media and messaging apps. Facebook has around 3 billion accounts. YouTube has over 2 billion. In Brazil, according to a survey by the National Congress, 79% of the population has WhatsApp as their main source of information. Television comes in a distant second place, at 50%. Printed vehicles, which are experiencing a crisis in their business model, are used by only 8%. The growing weight of technological platforms across the planet and the many risks that can arise from their abusive use have led most democracies in the world to debate the best regulatory model for this new reality. In Brazil, there is already a bill approved in the Federal Senate and currently being debated in the Chamber of Deputies.

It is interesting to note that, in the beginning, the belief that the Internet should be an “open, free and unregulated” space predominated, but this perception has completely disappeared. There is a consensus today on the need for regulation on different levels:

  • economic, to prevent market domination, protect copyright and establish fair taxation;
  • privacy, to prevent the misuse of information accumulated by technological platforms about their users; and
  • control of behavior and content, in order to find the right balance between freedom of expression and repression of illegal conduct. The latter point is what matters for the purposes of this reflection.

III. Social Media Regulation

The regulation of social media should seek to curb:

  • inauthentic behaviors that involve the use of automated systems–robots or bots, fake profiles or hired people, trolls–to forge engagement and/or drown out third-party discourse;
  • illicit content, which includes terrorism, child sexual abuse, incitement to crime and violence, hateful or discriminatory speech, undemocratic attacks, non-consensual sharing of intimate images (revenge porn), etc.; and
  • disinformation, which consists of the deliberate creation or dissemination of false news, usually with the purpose of obtaining one’s own gain–political, economic, personal–causing harm to other people.

Within a basic legal framework established by the State, the ideal is self-regulation by the platforms themselves, minimizing government interference. However, after democracies have overcome state censorship of freedom of expression, it is undesirable to have it replaced by private censorship. For this reason, when platforms are moderating content based on their terms of use, they must have transparency and fairness duties, in addition to having transparent procedures for content removal.

IV. Threats to Democracy and Attacks on the Electoral Process

Brazilian democracy has recently lived trying times. Some of the most serious events include:

  • rallying outside the army headquarters, with requests for intervention by the Armed Forces into the political process;
  • demonstrations on September 7, 2021, with threatening and intimidating calls against institutions and incitement to the insubordination of Police forces;
  • threats of invasion and closure of the National Congress, the Federal Supreme Court, and non-compliance with judicial decisions;
  • tanks parading in Praça dos Três Poderes, Brazil’s center of power which hosts the buildings to the Supreme Court, the Congress and other relevant governmental bodies; and
  • calls for impeachment of a Justice of the Federal Supreme Court.

The past haunted our lives ominously. 

The infrastructure of Electoral Justice, which operates Brazilian democratic processes with integrity, has suffered repeated attacks, with false accusations of fraud and offenses against its members, in an effort to discredit the democratic political process. For months, the country watched an absurd campaign that preached a return to the paper ballot vote (in substitution of Brazil’s current electronic vote, recognized for its safety and accurateness), with manual public counting. Again, a bet on backwardness. A return to the past of fraud, during which ballot boxes disappeared while others appeared with more votes than voters, all while electoral maps were manipulated in favor of dishonest people. Fortunately, the National Congress, showing its independence, rejected this change, which was perceived by most as motivated by dark intentions of disrespect for the electoral result.

The worst consequence of all this, however, was that throughout the year, the country had to expend immense energy debating the wrong issues. We discussed going back to paper ballots, when we needed to be discussing much more relevant and urgent electoral matters, such as:

  • democratizing parties, which cannot have owners or eternalized provisional committees;
  • the need for more women in party leadership;
  • objective and transparent criteria for the distribution of the Electoral Fund and accountability for this expenditure of public money;
  • ending political gender violence, which inflicts physical and moral attacks on women who have the courage to enter politics;
  • the electoral system, which is excessively expensive, has problems of low representation and makes governance difficult, among other issues.

All amid civilizational and cognitive deficits.

V. Fighting Disinformation

On multiple occasions in recent times, the political process has been dominated by hate speech, disinformation campaigns, and conspiracy theories. For the Superior Electoral Court, however, it was a period of profound learning and development of new capacities to deal with the problems brought about by the misuse of social media. The 2018 elections represented a relevant change in the structure of the electoral process, having been marked by the move from television and radio campaigns to social networks. The truth is that neither legislation nor precedents were prepared to address this new reality.

In the 2020 elections, however, many lessons had already been learned and the Superior Electoral Court prepared itself for a real war, on multiple fronts. In fact, it was necessary to convince people to vote in the midst of a pandemic, to prepare a mega health security plan, with the distribution of safety equipment and, in particular, to prepare a large program to fight disinformation. The program was developed along three axes:

  • to combat false information by flooding the market with true information;
  • to put priority focus on the control of inauthentic behavior, and not on the content of the speech; and
  • to deliver media education, seeking to make society aware of the problem.

The battle against disinformation that aimed to undermine the credibility of the electoral process was won – but only provisionally.

The truth is that the Digital Revolution and the rise of social media have allowed for the emergence of true digital militias, verbal terrorists who spread hate, lies, conspiracy theories, and attacks on people and democracy. Some call themselves journalists but they are, in fact, fake news dealers.

Something seems to have happened in the world that it suddenly released all the demons that lived in the shadows. And so, unceremoniously, racists, fascists, homophobes, misogynists, deforesters, land grabbers, and assorted supremacists came out into the open. We must face them, remembering Nietzsche’s warning: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster..” What the world really needs is a shock of humanism, civility, and enlightenment.

Suggested Citation: Luís Roberto Barroso, Hate, Lies, and Democracy, Int’l J. Const. L. Blog, January 22, 2022, at: http://www.iconnectblog.com/2022/01/hate-lies-and-democracy.


[1] Much of the information and ideas in this topic and the next were gathered from Luna van Brussel Barroso, Freedom of Expression and Democracy in the Digital Age. Belo Horizonte: Forum, 2022 (forthcoming).

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Published on January 22, 2022
Author:          Filed under: Analysis
 

5 Responses

  1. Mauricio dos Santos Pereira

    Em que pese dirigir-me a uma autoridade brasileira da Suprema Corte, não posso me distanciar da verdade plena, o que o texto acima faz por vezes.
    Primeiro, não deixou transparente o Ministro que as eleições brasileiras são feitas em urnas eletrônicas cujo escrutínio não é realizado pelo povo, mas pela própria urna o que é ilegal.
    O ministro faz la sobre desinformação e seu combate, mas todavia desinformação o leitor e pratica “fake news” ao dizer que queríamos a volta do voto em papel, mentira! O brasileiro lutou e luta para que exista a impressão do voto para que anco também seja publica, transparente e respeite a Constituição Federal de 1988, art. 37.
    Desinforma quando fala de tanques nas ruas como ameaça, mas a verdade isso é tradicional e anual com a diferença e que desta vez, passaram pelo centro de Brasília. (https://www.google.com/amp/s/jovempan.com.br/noticias/politica/forcas-armadas-realizarao-desfile-de-blindados-na-esplanada-dos-ministerios.html%3famp)
    O Ministro acaba de elogiar eleições de Portugal, mas nao é transparente na informação, em Portugal exites escrutínio público.
    Não disse o Ministro que, por simples subjetividade, cassaou a monetizado de canais do yutube só por serem divulgarem o trabalho do Presidente da Republica, deixando muitos sem renda, abrindo inquéritos nos quais prisões ilegais foram feitas.
    Não disse o Ministro que sua ideia de regulação da mídia digital levou a prisão de Deputado Federal, jornalistas e cidadãos de bem, através de de outro Ministro da STF Alexandre de Moraes.
    Não informou o Ministro que o STFblibertou e anulou processos contra os maiores corruptos do mundo que quase faliram a Petrobrás…
    Espero mesmo que se reflita e que a leitura do texto acima seja feito de maneira cautelosa, por este Ministro que diz ser contra a desinformação, mente e desinforma, falando mal do Governo de seu próprio país, em postura que não se coaduna com o mister constitucional…
    Liberdade de expressão que uso neste momento para expressar meu sentimento de brasileiro, Constituição Federal de 1988, Pacto de San Jose da Costa Rica, e outros tratados universais me asseguram este direito.
    Que Deus guie as cabeças dessas autoridades pela paz social!

  2. MAURICIO DOS SANTOS PEREIRA

    Correção do texto anterior.

    Em que pese dirigir-me a uma autoridade brasileira da Suprema Corte, não posso me distanciar da verdade plena, o que o texto acima faz por vezes.
    Primeiro, não deixou transparente o Ministro que as eleições brasileiras são feitas em urnas eletrônicas cujo escrutínio não é realizado pelo povo, mas pela própria urna o que é ilegal.
    O ministro fala sobre desinformação e seu combate, mas todavia desinformação o leitor e pratica “fake news” ao dizer que queríamos a volta do voto em papel, mentira! O brasileiro lutou e luta para que exista a impressão do voto para que anco também seja pública, transparente e respeite a Constituição Federal de 1988, art. 37.
    Desinforma quando fala de tanques nas ruas como ameaça, mas na verdade isso é tradicional e anual com a diferença e que desta vez o desfile passou pelo centro de Brasília. (https://www.google.com/amp/s/jovempan.com.br/noticias/politica/forcas-armadas-realizarao-desfile-de-blindados-na-esplanada-dos-ministerios.html%3famp)
    O Ministro acaba de elogiar eleições de Portugal, mas não é transparente na informação, em Portugal existe escrutínio público.
    Não disse o Ministro que, por simples subjetividade, cassou a monetizado de canais do yutube só por terem divulgarem o trabalho do Presidente da Republica, deixando muitos sem renda, abrindo inquéritos nos quais prisões ilegais foram feitas.
    Não disse o Ministro que sua ideia de regulação da mídia digital levou a prisão de Deputado Federal, jornalistas e cidadãos de bem, através de outro Ministro da STF Alexandre de Moraes.
    Não informou o Ministro que o STF libertou e anulou processos contra os maiores corruptos do mundo que quase faliram a Petrobrás…
    Espero mesmo que se reflita e que a leitura do texto acima seja feita de maneira cautelosa, pois este Ministro que diz ser contra a desinformação, mente e desinforma, falando mal do Governo de seu próprio país, em postura que não se coaduna com o mister constitucional…
    Liberdade de expressão que uso neste momento para expressar meu sentimento de brasileiro com fundamento na Constituição Federal de 1988, Pacto de San Jose da Costa Rica, e outros tratados universais me asseguram este direito.
    Que Deus guie as cabeças dessas autoridades pela paz social!

  3. MAURICIO DOS SANTOS PEREIRA

    Despite addressing a Brazilian authority of the Supreme Court, I cannot distance myself from the full truth, which the text above sometimes does.
    First, the Minister did not make it clear that Brazilian elections are held in electronic ballot boxes, whose scrutiny is not carried out by the people, but by the ballot box itself, which is illegal.
    The minister talks about disinformation and its fight, but nevertheless, the reader is disinformation and practices “fake news” by saying that we wanted the return of paper voting, a lie! The Brazilian fought and fights for the impression of the vote to exist so that annco is also public, transparent and respects the Federal Constitution of 1988, art. 37.
    It misinforms when talking about tanks in the streets as a threat, but in fact this is traditional and annual with the difference that this time the parade passed through the center of Brasília. (https://www.google.com/amp/s/jovempan.com.br/noticias/politica/forcas-armadas-realizarao-desfile-de-blindados-na-esplanada-dos-ministerios.html%3famp)
    The Minister has just praised Portugal’s elections, but is not transparent in the information, in Portugal there is public scrutiny.
    The Minister did not say that, for simple subjectivity, he canceled the monetization of yutube channels just because they publicized the work of the President of the Republic, leaving many without income, opening investigations in which illegal arrests were made.
    The Minister did not say that his idea of ​​regulating digital media led to the arrest of a Federal Deputy, journalists and good citizens, through another STF Minister Alexandre de Moraes.
    The Minister did not inform that the STF released and annulled processes against the biggest corrupt people in the world who almost bankrupted Petrobras…
    I really hope that reflection is given and that the text above is read carefully, because this Minister who says he is against disinformation lies and misinforms, speaking ill of the Government of his own country, in a posture that is not in line with the constitutional…
    Freedom of expression that I use at this moment to express my feeling as a Brazilian based on the Federal Constitution of 1988, Pact of San Jose of Costa Rica, and other universal treaties guarantee me this right.
    May God guide the heads of these authorities for social peace!

  4. Annah

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  5. Kong Lu

    The connection between cryptocurrency and democracy is very strong. As far back as McAfee emphasized, the attempts of large states and corporations, such as Facebook, to create their own cryptocurrency indicate their desire to monitor and control people, so cryptocurrency should not be owned by anyone.
    However, the formal absence of an owner, as we have seen in the examples of cryptocurrencies WHACKD and DogeCoin, as well as the creators of trading bots https://www.scammerwatch.com/bitcoin-revival-bot-review/ itself does not provide a guarantee that control over them will not fall into the hands of non-transparent structures. Do the cryptocurrency ideologists take this into account or maybe this is their main goal?

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