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Facebook approved ad calling for violence in Brazil even after riots broke out

Global Witness submitted 16 ads promoting violence in Brazil. Fourteen were approved.


Jacob Seitz


Just days after far-right protestors descended on Brazil’s capital city, Facebook approved ads promoting violence in the country, according to a new report.

Supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro stormed Congress, the Supreme Court, and the presidential palace earlier this month in a coordinated attack that was fomented on social media. Immediately following the attacks, Meta, which owns Facebook, said it had designated Brazil as a “temporary high-risk location” and removed content promoting the invasion of government buildings. 

But a human rights organization found that—just four days after the attack—Facebook still allowed ads promoting violence and containing death threats.

Global Witness submitted 16 fake ads from burner accounts on the platform, 14 of which were approved, the organization said in a report.

The approved ads included calls to “unearth all the rats that have seized power and shoot them,” saying that President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his government “should be in jail or dead and buried, not in the presidential palace” and saying “Death to the children of Lula voters” in Portuguese.

The human rights group submitted the same ads to YouTube, which did not allow any of them to be published and suspended the accounts that submitted them.

Lula da Silva won the presidency in a runoff election in October and took office on Jan. 1, but his opponent, Bolsanaro, refused to concede defeat. Supporters of his said the election was stolen or rigged and used the accusations to stoke anger in the country, which culminated in the riot on Jan. 8.

“Much of this attempt to overturn the results of the election was instigated, organized, and fueled online,” said Rosie Sharpe, Digital Threats Campaigner at Global Witness. “By failing to fully address this, Facebook puts Brazilian democracy at risk. YouTube’s much stronger response demonstrates that the test we set is possible to pass.”

Update 3:34pm CT, Jan. 20: A Meta spokesperson told the Daily Dot that the ads were “not representative of how we enforce our policies at scale” and that the company “removed hundreds of thousands of pieces of content” that violated its policies in the lead-up to the Brazilian election. The company said it is also “constantly refining our processes to enforce our policies at scale.”

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