Oversight Board criticizes Meta for refusing to take down Brazilian pro-insurrection video

The independent reviewer called for Meta to 'develop a framework for evaluating its election integrity efforts.'

A new decision from Meta's Oversight Board reiterates Facebook's continual role as a platform for dangerous election rhetoric. The Board reversed Meta's initial decision to leave public a video posted in January that called for insurrectionist actions in Brazil following the inauguration of its new president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Lula took office on January 1st, and two days later, a user posted the video of a prominent Brazilian general — and supporter of the former president Jair Bolsonaro — telling people to "hit the streets" and "go to the National Congress … [and the] Supreme Court." Portugese text overlaid the video stating, "Come to Brasília! Let's Storm it! Let's besiege the three powers." Three Powers Plaza sits in the Brazilian capital and is home to the Congress, Supreme Court and the presidential offices.

Meta had previously acknowledged the risk of civil and election-centric unrest in Brazil, first labeling the country a "Temporary High-Risk Location" in September 2022 and then extending it to late February of this year. Yet, when an initial user reported the video, a moderator didn't find it in violation of Meta's policies — a second moderator agreed following an appeal. Seven moderators in total reviewed reports from four individuals between January 3rd and 4th, but none found an issue with the video. An accompanying caption for the video called for a "besiege" of Brazil's Congress as a last-ditch effort. Five days after the video arrived on Facebook, hundreds of protesters broke into the three governmental buildings and set fires, broke windows and assaulted police officers.

The next day Meta called the riots a "violating event" and claimed to have "been removing content calling for people to take up arms or forcibly invade Congress, the Presidential palace and other federal buildings." Yet, the video remained on Facebook until January 20th, when Meta removed the post following the Oversight Board's choice to shortlist its review into it. Moderators should categorize a post as violating Meta's rules when it calls for forced entry into a high-risk place (like a government building) in a temporary high-risk location (as Brazil was at the time). Meta stated that leaving up the video with a military official calling for an insurrection was an "error."

In its decision, the Oversight Board said it was "deeply concerned" that Meta's moderators had continually found the video not to violate its policies. The Board recommended that Meta finally "develop a framework for evaluating its election integrity efforts. This includes creating and sharing metrics for successful election integrity efforts, including those related to Meta's enforcement of its content policies and its approach to ads." It also called on the company to expand its protocols when evaluating if content causes harm in high-risk events.

The Oversight Board has operated since 2020 as an independently funded entity to which individuals can appeal content visibility decisions. It has the power to permit or remove Facebook and Instagram content with statements outlining its rationale accompanying each decision. The Board currently has 22 members (a report claims it will eventually be 40), including Nighat Dad, founder of the Digital Rights Foundation, and Ronaldo Lemos, a Rio De Janiero State University's Law School professor.

Meta has served as a home for right-wing conspiracy theorists and organizers, with at least 650,000 posts arguing against Joe Biden's victory shared on Facebook between Election Day 2020 in the US and the January 6th, 2021 insurrection. The social media platform had enacted some safety features after misinformation spread had spread across it around the 2016 Election, but it continued to do so, and ahead of the 2022 midterms and Brazil's general election, Meta quietly rolled back many of its safeguards.