Social media giants Twitter and Facebook suspended the accounts of several allies of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro following an order from the South American nation’s Supreme Court.
The decision comes as the high court is probing whether the allies led a disinformation campaign.
Tension has been soaring between the far-right leader and the court, which is investigating allegations that members of his inner circle ran a social media campaign to discredit the court, as well as slander and threaten its judges.
The two United States-based companies are also facing increasing pressure to act more aggressively against hate speech and false information on their platforms.
Justice Alexandre de Moraes said in his court order, which enforced an earlier May ruling, that the accounts must be blocked to stop ‘the ongoing dissemination of fake news, slanderous accusations, threats and crimes’ against the court.
Twitter and Facebook blocked accounts belonging to high-profile figures, including conservative former lawmaker Roberto Jefferson, business magnate Luciano Hang and far-right activist Sara Winter.
Visitors to their Facebook and Twitter pages in Brazil, though not other countries, saw messages indicating they were blocked.
‘This content isn’t available right now,’ read their Facebook pages.
A Twitter notice explained: ‘Account withheld in Brazil in response to a legal demand’.
A linked message said the company ‘was compelled to withhold the original Tweet in response to a valid legal demand, such as a court order.’
Moments after the ruling, Jefferson tweeted that the Supreme Court ‘accuses, interrogates, judges and condemns, especially those who speak freely.’
On Saturday morning, he asked his more than 216,000 followers to follow his daughter’s Twitter account which he would use to spread his message ‘while the censorship imposed by the Supreme Court lasts… We won’t let them shut us up!
Winter called the court order worthy of a ‘dictatorship.’
‘Until when will we be censored in this way? No reason, no proof of anything, just for being conservative supporting the president @jairbolsonaro. They are NEVER going to shut us up! ARE YOU HEARING [us]? NEVER!’
On July 8, Facebook suspended accounts tied to President Bolsonaro’s employees and two of his sons, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro and Senator Flavio Bolsonaro.
Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said the accounts were removed for using fake personas and other types of ‘coordinated inauthentic behavior,’ actions that violated the social media network’s rules.
While there was no evidence the politicians themselves had operated the accounts, Gleicher told Reuters that they were able to find that government workers used Facebook to ‘engaged on our platforms in this type of behavior.’