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Authoritarians Have Figured Out Social Media
This week, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro temporarily banned social media companies from removing content, which is seen as one of the most drastic steps by a democratically elected leader to control what can be said on the internet.
Also, this week, The Wall Street Journal reported that “millions of celebrities, politicians and other high-profile users” are part of a program called XCheck whose members are either “rendered immune from enforcement actions” or allowed “to post rule-violating material pending Facebook employee reviews that often never come.”
A third-party expert to help understand these major issues in social media is assistant professor Jennifer Grygiel (they/them) and researcher of social media. You can see examples of their interviews here: http://jennifergrygiel.com/
“What we are seeing in Brazil is President Bolsonaro trying to ensure that he doesn’t need to rely on being on Facebook’s safe list which recently came to light with the XCheck system revelation,” said Grygiel. “Authoritarians figured out long ago that lax social media content moderation systems such as XCheck supported incumbency, as it reduces the political access the public has to other running for office, but it wasn’t a given.”
“Facebook plays along with those in power as they are subject to sovereign oversight but there is a window of time around elections where platforms are able to inject themselves into democratic processes and tip the scale toward those that they prefer through content moderation polices,” said Grygiel.
“Facebook’s power is transparent when a politician is de-platformed, but there can be opaque policy systems like XCheck running in the background which become more evident over time as Facebook’s inner workings have been leaked to the public,” said Grygiel. “We should expect more countries to pass similar laws as incumbent attempt to game elections. We need to monitor such activity but also need protections for all democracies though as there is nothing stopping Facebook from influencing democratic elections around the world. I’ve been calling for algorithmic quiet periods for years in advance of elections to make sure that Facebook is not able to meddle with democracy.”
To request an interview with Grygiel, please contact Ellen James Mbuqe, director of media relations, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-496-0551. Alternatively, you can always reach out to Grygiel directly at email@example.com.