Global Witness experiment, submitting Brazilian election disinformation ads for approval on YouTube and Facebook, finds: 

  • Every single ad containing election disinformation posted to YouTube approved for publication
  • Half of the ads, all of which have been previously tested and publicly flagged, approved by Facebook

20th October 2022, London - Big social media firms, YouTube and Facebook, are still allowing outright disinformation related to the Brazilian Presidential election to be published, despite repeated warnings, according to Global Witness.

It is the third such experiment Global Witness has carried out during the tense Brazilian elections. In August 100 percent of ads submitted for approval to Facebook were approved for publication, that included incorrect information such as the date of voting, as well as denying the credibility of the election and urging people not to vote. 

Last month, half of the same ads submitted to Facebook were again approved for publication and in this latest test carried out following the first round of voting, 50 percent of the ads were again approved, including some which had previously been rejected.

The experiment was this time widened to include YouTube, and  every single ad tested was approved by the Google-owned platform. Ads claiming that in some locations the run-off date had moved from the 30th to 31st October and that the result of the election was already pre-decided were amongst those YouTube cleared to be published. 

Jon Lloyd, Senior Adviser at Global Witness, said:

“It’s frankly shocking that these massive firms with the technological prowess they clearly have, are unable to weed out such blatant disinformation being pushed onto their users. In the case of Facebook, not once, not twice, but three times some of the same ads have been approved.”

“If it wasn’t already obvious it should now be undeniable to even the biggest sceptic - social media firms are fundamentally failing in their responsibility to stop democratic processes being undermined by false, misleading and purposeful deceit. These warnings are not new - no more excuses for the likes of Facebook and YouTube not to have their houses in order.”

“This key vote in Brazil has been marred by a huge spike in political violence, killings, threats and kidnappings. It’s a sad reality that this tense environment has been fuelled online. The issues raised here are not simply what could or might be happening - it is happening.”

Especially concerning is that Meta once again failed to identify that the ads were posted from outside of Brazil from an account that had not gone through its “ad authorisations” process – a requirement for any account posting election-related content.

With each experiment, Global Witness has published its findings in both Brazilian and international media, as well informing Facebook of the weaknesses in their defences against disinformation.

A Meta spokesperson said in response to our experiments that they “were based on a very small sample of ads, and are not representative given the number of political ads we review daily across the world” and went on to say that their ad review process has several layers of analysis and detections, and that they invest many resources in their election integrity efforts. Google did not respond to our opportunity to comment. 

In response to Global Witness’ original investigation in August, Facebook said they will “prohibit ads calling into question the legitimacy of the upcoming election” - a rehashing of an existing policy. Following this latest evidence Global Witness is again calling on Meta and Google, the owners of Facebook and YouTube, to:

  • Urgently increase the content moderation capabilities and integrity systems deployed to mitigate risk before, during and after the upcoming Brazilian election – and ensure that the moderators speak
  • Portuguese and understand Brazilian culture. 
  • Properly resource content moderation in all the countries in which they operate around the world, including providing paying content moderators a fair wage, allowing them to unionize and providing psychological support.
  • Immediately strengthen its ad account verification process to better identify accounts posting content that undermines election integrity.
  • Include full details of all ads (including intended target audience, actual audience, ad spend, and ad buyer) in its ad library.
  • Allow verified independent third party auditing so that Meta and Google can be held accountable for what they say they are doing.
  • Publish their pre-election risk assessment for Brazil.