How can the Fake News Bill, after all, facilitate misinformation? – 04/28/2023

The Chamber of Deputies approved the urgency regime for voting on the Fake News PL (PL 2630/20). The bill, which was born to combat disinformation, today deals with a wide range of topics such as moderation of content on social networks, preparation of transparency reports, remuneration of press vehicles, in addition to ensuring controversial parliamentary immunity on networks.

There are positives and negatives to the project. Internet regulation in Brazil really needs to be updated. The question is no longer whether there should be regulation, but what kind of regulation is most appropriate.

As the debate on the networks heated up, with demonstrations for and against the project, this and the next texts in the column will explore some points of the proposal that deserve attention. I tried to highlight issues that haven’t been appearing so much around and that deserve a more careful look.

More than 40% of the PL did not go through any public hearing or consultation

PL 2630 is from 2020. It has already passed through the Senate —with the approval of a text radically different from what exists today—, and several virtual public hearings were held in the Chamber.

It turns out that, in the last week, a proposal from the Federal Government has emerged to deal with the regulation of digital platforms. Part of the government’s suggestions, in addition to other innovations, entered and greatly modified the text that had gone through the public hearings and consultations.

In fact, the version of PL 2630 that appeared at the beginning of the week contained 27 new articles out of a total of 66. It is 40.9% of a text that goes to vote in the Chamber without going through any minimally in-depth debate.

orlando - Vinicius Loures / Chamber of Deputies - Vinicius Loures / Chamber of Deputies

Deputy Orlando Silva (PCdoB), rapporteur for the Fake News PL in the Chamber.

Image: Vinicius Loures / Chamber of Deputies

It is clear that the urgency regime confers a speed that is not compatible with longer public consultations, but in any case it does not hurt to remember that the (Internet Management Committee) has just opened a consultation on platform regulation. Without that, Brazil, which had an undisputed tradition of public participation in the formulation of rules for the Internet, took a step backwards.

Measures to combat disinformation favor disinformation

It’s like in spy movies: the bad guy doesn’t hide in a dark alley, but in the middle of the crowd. With the enlargement of PL 2630, which was born to combat disinformation, some of the proposed measures may end up having the reverse effect of the intended one. That is, instead of reducing, it will protect fake news.

Like this? First, it is important to understand that PL 2630 enshrines parliamentary immunity in social networks. This measure has everything to make it even more difficult for platforms to act to moderate content posted by politicians. And unfortunately some politicians ended up serving as spearheads on the networks to spread disinformation campaigns.

Added to this fact is the remuneration that the project provides for journalistic vehicles that have their content posted on social networks. It is not difficult to imagine how some of the most famous sites that spread fake news will exploit this new source of resources, although using the most different expedients to give a journalistic look to their contents.

These two measures may favor disinformation campaigns, either by protecting politicians’ accounts or by supplying websites that claim to be journalistic with resources paid for by the platforms.

Anatel could become the Brazilian internet inspector

A historical premise in network regulation is the separation between telecommunication services and so-called value-added services (such as internet applications). PL 2630 creates an “autonomous supervisory entity” that will be responsible for overseeing digital platforms. The question is: who is this entity?

A legislative bill cannot create positions in the executive branch. So the answer to that question may come after approval by Congress. It turns out that creating a supervisory entity from scratch is not easy at all. See the creation and development process of the ANPD (National Data Protection Authority), which only after a couple of years of structuring and publishing guidelines will begin to sanction agents for violations of the LGPD (General Data Protection Law) .

That’s where Anatel comes in. In a seminar held by in Brasilia, this Tuesday (25), Carlos Baigorri, president of the agency, said that it is ready to be that inspector of digital platforms, with hundreds of servers and decades of experience.

The agency can start to punish [plataformas digitais] tomorrow
Carlos Baigorri, President of Anatel

It turns out that Anatel shouldn’t take care of content. The agency’s police power seems little used to the issues that PL 2630 deals with, such as the moderation of content reputed to be terrorist or that violate the Statute of Children and Adolescents. But in times when fewer and fewer people are making phone calls or subscribing to cable television, it seems the agency is looking to expand its capabilities.

If the plan succeeds, a series of modifications to Anatel’s structure will have to be completed so that it becomes the autonomous supervisory entity provided for in PL 2630. In historical terms, it would be a real transformation in the way in which internet governance was structured in Brazil.

In the coming days, I will explore other points of attention regarding PL 2630, as changes in the wording that will be voted on in the Chamber of Deputies appear at every moment.

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