Facebook reportedly approved ads that promoted death threats and violence in Brazil days after rioters stormed the nation's congress

Attendees walk past a Facebook logo during Facebook Inc's F8 developers conference in 2019.
Facebook approved almost all of the submitted ads.Stephen Lam/Reuters
  • A nonprofit's new report outlines how Facebook approved a batch of violent, antidemocratic ads they were testing.

  • The report says that it submitted the same ads to YouTube, which didn't approve any.

  • The ads included threats against Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and the children of his supporters.

Facebook approved ads that featured violent rhetoric, including death threats against supporters of leftist Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and their children, according to a new report by Global Witness, an international non-profit organization dedicated to fighting human rights abuses.

As part of a test to see what Facebook would approve, Global Witness said it submitted 16 advertisements, and the platform only rejected two of them. Some of the approved ads encouraged people to storm government buildings, arm themselves, and called for the "death [of] children of Lula voters" in Portuguese. Other ads included misinformation about how the October election between Lula and the former far-right president Jair Bolsonaro was stolen.

The organization said it also submitted the same ads to YouTube, but the video platform didn't approve any of them. Global Witness wrote in the report that it deleted the Facebook ads before they went online.

This alarming experiment was in response to a mass riot in Brazil on January 8, where thousands of aggressive Bolsonaro supporters and far-right extremists stormed the country's congress, the presidential office, and the supreme court.  The riots led to over 1,500 arrests. Many people compared the assault to the January 6 US Capitol riot in 2021.

"There is absolutely no way the sort of violent content we tested should ever be approved for publication by a major social media firm like Facebook," Rosie Sharper, the Digital Threats Campaigner at Global Witness, wrote in the report. "Much of this attempt to overturn the results of the election was instigated, organized, and fuelled online. By failing to fully address this, Facebook puts Brazilian democracy at risk."

In September 2022, the nonprofit rights group SumOfUs released a report detailing how Facebook's parent company, Meta, was facilitating the spread of antidemocratic ads that made false claims about election security in Brazil. The group compared it to the "Stop the Steal" campaign that inspired the US Capitol insurrection.

In response to the report, a spokesperson for Meta told Global Witness that their "small sample of ads" was "not representative" of how the company enforces policies.

"Like we've said in the past, ahead of last year's election in Brazil, we removed hundreds of thousands of pieces of content that violated our policies on violence and incitement and rejected tens of thousands of ad submissions before they ran," the company spokesperson said. "We use technology and teams to help keep our platforms safe from abuse and we're constantly refining our processes to enforce our policies at scale."

Facebook did not respond to Insider's request for comment.

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