Brasil Wire editor Brian Mier addresses Brazilian Congress on fake news, censorship and the independent media.
On Monday morning, June 19th, I was invited to fly to Brasilia to address Congress on the subject of fake news and the independent media. My invitation, extended by the progressive news outlet Brasil 247, was the result of a sequence of recent events involving Facebook’s mislabeling of factual stories about Pope Francis delivering a Rosary to President Lula as fake news, and the Temer government’s announcement of a new, governmental fake news analyzing committee for the election season. I was invited to give an American perspective on the concept of fake news and, like all the other speakers, I was given 5 minutes to get my point across. This is how it went.
Good afternoon everyone. I am grateful for the invitation to speak here in Congress. As an immigrant to Brazil, it is an honor. I hope that you can show a little patience with my Portuguese.
I want to speak a little about this debate. I think it is important to add a bit of context, as an American who comes from the country which recently created this definition of fake news. Fake news is not Yellow Journalism. The big news companies, the media oligarchies, the New York Times and the Guardian, always publish manipulative news, mainly in times of War. In 2002 and 2003 we saw hundreds of articles which spread false information about Saddam Hussain and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and a war resulted from this.
So it is nothing new that false news is spreading around on the internet or by the big media companies. However, in 2016 after Hilary Clinton lost the election, the more conservative sector of the Democratic Party, instead of assuming responsibility for organizing a poor electoral campaign and losing, began to blame the Russians for manipulating the elections. They created this term fake news to describe a process in which a foreign government, working through internet companies and bots, manipulates the news in another country during an election season. This hasn’t been definitively proven yet – but when the concept of fake news began to spread through the United States, the big media companies like the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN, who have been losing space on the internet for years to independent media organizations, started to manipulate the term to discredit and defame their competition.
After the scandal during which it was revealed that Facebook was selling private information about its users, pressure mounted on Mark Zuckerberg. He said, “we’re sorry. Facebook will do better”. He was summoned to testify in England, the European Union and in American Congress and during this, he announced that they were going to adopt measures to fight the so-called fake news.
Starting this April, when the algorithms changed, the first result was that the biggest progressive alternative media vehicles began to loose reach. Media outlets like Alternet, Democracy Now, Counterpunch, which is a progressive magazine that has been around for decades, immediately registered losses in reach ranging from 20-60%. And when I see what is happening in Brazil, with the highly respected Forum Magazine, with Brasil 247- both publications run by veteran journalists- how they were victims of censorship last week, I would like to say the following. I think that it is wrong to leave censorship in the hands of the private sector. Any type of censorship is wrong, however if crimes of slander, defamation or racism are committed on Facebook, Facebook should be blamed for them as well. I think it would be interesting for the Brazilian Congress to summon Mark Zuckerberg here to provide clarification and explain what he is doing with the Brazilian people’s personal data, what he is doing with his self-regulating censorship of fake news, and what Facebook’s role was in the 2013 protests. Thank you.