Facebook has taken down a number of pages operated by a right-wing Brazilian activist group Wednesday, cracking down on the spread of misinformation. The company’s stock prices have subsequently taken a hit as it continues to invest in security measures.
Facebook is one of the largest social media corporations in the world. Founded by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004, it had approximately 2 billion monthly users in 2017, and has over 14 billion registered users. Facebook has faced increasing controversy in recent years. The company has been criticized for its failure to address hate speech and terrorist propaganda, the presence of bots, and the proliferation of “fake news”.
Brazil is one of the world’s largest democracies. From 2000 to 2012, the country’s average annual GDP grew at a rate of over 5%. In 2012, the economy surpassed that of the United Kingdom, temporarily making it sixth largest economy in the world. In 2017, it was reported that it was in the midst of its worst ever recession. The growth rate is now 8% lesser than it was in December 2014. However, it still remains one of the most influential countries in the region.
Brazil is scheduled to hold general elections in October 2018. Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is in jail on corruption charges, remains Brazil's most popular politician. His Workers Party (PT) has proclaimed him its candidate, which will depend on Brazil’s electoral courts. The electoral law forbids politicians from running for office for eight years after being found guilty of a crime.
Facebook has deactivated 196 fake pages and 87 accounts in Brazil used by a right-wing Brazilian activist group Movimento Brazil Livre (MBL) or “Free Brazil Movement” to spread its political message throughout the country ahead of the general elections in October. The social media giant stated that the deactivations were instituted because the pages were part of "a coordinated network that hid behind fake Facebook accounts and misled people about the nature and origin of its content, all for the purpose of sowing division and spreading misinformation."
After rigorous investigation, the network was found to be in violation of Facebook’s authenticity policies after which it was taken down. There appears to be no foreign involvement in the MBL network so far.
However, the pages, which had around half of a million followers, were not identified. They ranged from sensationalist general news feeds to political fare with an openly conservative angle. MBL was able to spread their coordinated messaging in a way that portrayed information was coming from various independent news outlets. It rose to prominence in 2016 by leading protests for demanding the impeachment of leftist former President Dilma Rousseff. Since then, it has utilized the internet to help spread its politics, stating that the web has allowed people to find their voices.
Facebook had removed tens of thousands of fake accounts promoting propaganda and impersonating politicians to gain likes ahead of Germany's elections last September, France's elections in April 2017 and Mexico’s general election earlier this month. It is working alongside a superior electoral court, a regional court and electoral law enforcement authorities in its efforts to monitor ads on the website.
Meanwhile, Facebook’s stock price has fallen more than 20% Wednesday afternoon after its second quarter earnings report. Its revenue of $13.23 billion for the quarter is it’s best-ever, but it still fell short of Wall Street’s lofty $13.34 billion projections. Chief Financial Officer David Wehner said, “Our total revenue growth rates will continue to decelerate in the second half of 2018, and we expect our revenue growth rates to decline by high single-digit percentages from prior quarters sequentially in both Q3 and Q4.”
Losing nearly one-fifth of its value in stocks, the company has showed slowing user growth since the Cambridge Analytica scandal. It had 1.47 billion daily active users in Q2, an increase of just 1.4 percent over Q1. Facebook has stated that its efforts in combating fake news and enhancing privacy laws will impact their user growth. “We are investing so much in security that it will have a significant impact on our profitability,” said the CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.
MBL has criticized Facebook for blocking several organizers without giving a full explanation. “Freedom of expression and democracy are pillars of the MBL. We will use all of the legal, political and media resources offered by democracy to recover the blocked pages and undo this persecution,” the group said.
Our assessment is that Facebook is steadily working to combat the spread of misinformation and deceit being spread on its network. We feel that social media has been used to to manipulate political outcomes and even incite violence, as seen in the Russian interference during the 2016 US elections and mob lynchings in India. We believe that Facebook’s profits will continue to plummet in the next few months or even years, with important upcoming elections serving as the real tests of its reliability.