Digital Democracy

Digitalization and the Public Sphere in Brazil

Fake News and Parliaments — How to Increase Accountability on the Internet?

FGV DAPP Launches a Series of Debates Discussing the Role of the Parliament in the Fight Against Fake News

Nine in ten Brazilians received at least one piece of disinformation during the pandemic of 2020. The alert was made by the congressman Felipe Rigoni (PSB-ES) on September 8th, in the opening of the webinar series Acting Against Fake News in Social Media, organized by the Department of Public Policy Analysis of Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV DAPP) and the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany. The number helps to measure the size of the challenge faced by the institutions in the fight against disinformation, central theme of the event. 

The official opening was conducted by the German ambassador stationed in Brazil, Heiko Thoms, who thanked the cooperative work with the Brazilian institution and emphasized the need to promote measures that sustain the democratic institutions, and the director of FGV DAPP Marco Aurelio Ruediger. In his opinion, this kind of initiative illustrates the commitment of those involved in the improvement of the democratic mechanisms. “These mechanisms need to be preserved by means of the warranty of the contradictory”, said Ruediger.

Over three days, the discussions united names who are references to the subject in their fields of knowledge. The debates also marked the beginning of the set of measures related to the project Digitalization and Democracy in Brazil, with an estimated duration of two years, the result of a cooperation of FGV DAPP with the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Brazil. The conferences and tables showed that, at this moment, the efforts are focused on understanding the functioning of the production and circulation of fake news, as well as the environments and conditions that are suitable for them.

The president of the Chamber of Deputies Rodrigo Maia (DEM-RJ) branded the disinformative actions that mark the contemporary political environments as virtual guerrillas, and stated that the subject is very serious. He spoke on the first webinar, Fake News and Parliaments: How to Increase Accountability on the Internet?, which was moderated by the journalist Flávia Lima, ombudsman of the Newspaper Folha de São Paulo. Maia argued that means to fight fake news should not be limited to organic movements, risking immeasurable damage to the liberties. He also recognized the importance of voting later this year in the project of the Fake News Law, which has been passed by the Senate and is now in the Chamber. 

Rigoni, who is the co-author of the project, dedicated his speech to explain and answer the questions related to the means of which the text of the law has been built. He said that the first great challenge was thinking about the legislation in the perspective of behavior. In other words, practices, not content. Furthermore, he anticipated that the text is based upon a few guiding axis’s, such as transparency, particularly of the moderation and sponsorship of content, and identification of automated accounts, as robots create artificial consensuses. These consensuses are responsible for the so-called bubbles, bonds moderated by the machines that lead the users to increasingly limit themselves to only one perspective, depriving them of the possibilities of divergence. 

In the same table, Thomas Petri, Baviera’s authority of data protection, brought the European experience of formulating a legal response to the demands imposed by the infodemic. He explained that the recent legislation contemplates fundamental principles that sustain the regulation of production, circulation and protection of data in all of the member states of the European Union. The measure that draws attention in these principles the most is the one in which the onus was inverted, so that the one who processes the data is the one who has to prove its nature. The platforms need to organize its autoregulation mechanisms, but the justice controls this created autoregulation institution through a regulator agency that is not subordinated to the government. Petri considers this autonomous aspect to be fundamental to the transparency and efficacy of regulation. This structure allows aggrieved users to address their demands to providers and platforms.

The congressman Orlando Silva (PCdoB-SP), president of the Science and Technology Committee, brought to the debate his concern with measures that extrapolate the legislative field, particularly the education and the media. When introducing in the discussion the theme of media education, he argued that it is not enough to offer a subject matter in the basic education’s curriculum framework, it is necessary to insert its content in the education of teachers. Furthermore, he advocated for digital inclusion, such as access to fact-checking mechanisms to those who are limited to video and audio messages. Regarding the media, he talked about the importance of increasing qualification of the information that overcomes the processes whereby the press credibility was being questioned, such as its disqualification by public agents. “We need structural measures beyond the law”, he concluded.  



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