RIO DE JANEIRO — Facebook and Instagram have removed from their platforms a live broadcast that Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro delivered in which he said people in the U.K. who have received two coronavirus vaccine doses are developing AIDS faster than expected.
Facebook’s press office confirmed in an emailed statement to The Associated Press that the content was removed Sunday night because it violated Facebook policy regarding COVID-19 vaccines.
“Our policies don’t allow claims that COVID-19 vaccines kill or seriously harm people,” the statement said. The company didn’t respond to AP questions regarding why three days elapsed before the much-criticized content was removed nor whether language barriers played a role, as Bolsonaro was speaking in Portuguese.
This claim is one of the strangest that President Trump, who was infected last year, made regarding immunization. He spent months doubting vaccines, in particular the Sinovac version. Brazilians were also warned by him that Pfizer would not be held responsible for side effects. He joked about the possibility of women getting beards and people becoming alligators.
Bolsonaro rebutted the criticism he was facing for allegedly spreading false news about AIDS. He said he had only read a Brazil news article in October last year. In fact, the media published a loosely related story and which pertained only to the type of vaccine in Russia’s Sputnik shot, which isn’t authorized for use in Brazil, according to fact-checking service Aos Fatos.
Facebook and Instagram took down posts from the far-right leader last year that had violated COVID-19’s community guidelines. This included one video where he said the antimalarial hydroxychloroquine cure COVID-19. Wide testing of the drug’s effectiveness in COVID-19 treatment has proven it ineffective. A few months later, Facebook removed dozens of accounts, some used by employees of Bolsonaro and two of his lawmaker sons, for engaging in “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
But Monday marked the first time Facebook removed one of Bolsonaro’s weekly live broadcasts that serve as a direct channel of communication with his supporters and tend to rack up hundreds of thousands of views.
Bolsonaro boasts 14.6million Facebook followers and close to 19 million Instagram fans. His victory in 2018’s election was made possible by social media platforms like WhatsApp (owned by Facebook). One year later, he plans to run for reelection. In recent times, his allies have been urging backers to support rival platforms like Telegram.
The Supreme Court’s Justice Alexandre de Moraes is overseeing an investigation into the dissemination of allegedly false news that targets close allies of the president, two of his sons and — as of August — Bolsonaro himself. De Moraes, who is a Bolsonaro supporter and blogger, ordered last week’s preventative detention and instructed the federal police that Interpol issue a red alert.
Facebook’s actions in Brazil come amid a deluge of stories by 17 American media organizations, including the AP, based on internal company documents that show, in many cases, the company failed to adequately and quickly deal with misinformation. The disclosures were made to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress in redacted form by former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen’s legal counsel. Redacted versions of the disclosures were obtained from a group of news organisations, which included the AP.