#FacebookPapers: Social network tolerates extremist group even after employee warnings
Arte: Rodolfo Almeida

Known for spreading misinformation, the Ordem Dourada do Brasil network has an interventionist and pro-weaponization stance

A mix of science denialism, weaponism, and support for domestic military intervention. Such is the essence of the Ordem Dourada do Brasil (ODB), a network of Facebook pages, profiles, and groups that was internally flagged as having potential for "social harm" in March 2021 and that, a year later, is still online, hosting live streams and spreading radical political messages.

The assessment that this network is harmful was made by Facebook's (now Meta’s) own internal analysts, according to joint research between Núcleo and Aos Fatos, based on internal communications leaked to the press in the so-called Facebook Papers.

Facebook documents show the existence of radical networks around the world that practice what analysts at the company understand as "coordinated social harm," including the Ordem Dourada do Brasil.

The continuity of the ODB pages and groups lights up an alert about the stance adopted by the world's largest social network, which, despite warnings from its own employees about issues and risks within certain groups, still tolerates that such networks remain active on the platform.

Núcleo and Aos Fatos gained access to documents made available by the legal counsel of Frances Haugen, a former employee of Facebook's Civic Integrity team who leaked the internal documents in 2021.


THIS MATTERS BECAUSE:

The company did not follow a recommendation from its own employees, who flagged the network as problematic

In Sept. 2021, Meta changed policies aimed at combating such groups, but has not taken action against this network

Content propagated by the network ranges from anti-vaccine denialism to support for coups and military intervention


In an email statement, Meta dodged the direct questions that were posed and responded:

Our teams work to balance protecting the freedom of speech of billions of people with the need to keep our platform a safe and positive environment. Last year alone we invested over US$5 billion in security and today we have over 40,000 people working on these challenges at Meta.

We have made significant improvements in keeping harmful content off our platforms, but across the internet, new networks are constantly emerging and adopting abusive behavior.

Highlighted in March 2021 in an internal platform document that came to light with the Facebook Papers scandal, ODB is a network that encompasses under its umbrella a number of other militaristic pages and profiles that "combine evangelical Christianity, pro-Bolsonaro content, conspiracy theories, support for the Brazilian military dictatorship, and pro-gun content."

In the document, the Ordem Dourada do Brasil is presented as an example of "coordinated social harm" alongside networks in Ethiopia, India, and other countries in the Global South, characterized by a high degree of coordination and mass posting to groups and pages, as well as clusters of SUMAs (Facebook's acronym for a user with multiple accounts ⁠— Same User Multiple Accounts) used as message amplifiers.

All of this has led Facebook employees to suggest the removal or demotion of content coming from the Ordem Dourada do Brasil.

Although it is not possible to determine if there was a demotion ⁠— when content has its reach reduced, for example ⁠— the ODB pages are still active and public, and can be accessed by any user of the social network.

ON THE RADAR FOR YEARS

This is not the first time that ODB has entered Facebook's radar. At least five years ago the platform had already taken action against it.

In 2016, according to a note published on the Ordem Dourada do Brazil’s website, Facebook took down the page "Ordem Dourada do Brazil". In the note, the ODB said that it was going to call on the Central Intelligence Agency [corporate name of the company] to take extrajudicial action against Facebook.

Currently, there is no main Facebook page for the Ordem Dourada do Brasil, only the public group, "Ordem Dourada do Brasil" with about 10,000 members.

Profiles with the names of federal deputies Carla Zambelli and Luiz Philippe de Orleans e Bragança and of councilman Carlos Bolsonaro (the president's son) appear as members of the group. Of these, only Luiz Philippe's profile has posted in the group ⁠— before he held public office.

Sought to comment on her participation in the network, Zambelli said, through her press office, that she was "completely unaware of the group" and that "up until a few years ago, any friend or acquaintance in the social network could include someone in a group, even without their authorization or knowledge, which was the case with the congresswoman." The report could not verify the veracity of Luiz Philippe de Orleans e Bragança’s and Carlos Bolsonaro’s profiles, as there was no response before the publishing of this article.

MISINFORMATION

According to a survey by Aos Fatos, in 2021 alone, the group produced 525 posts – out of the 200 with the most interactions, 35 contained disinformation (17.5%).  Together, they totaled more than 500 likes and comments, 12.6% of the interactions of the analyzed data.

The vast majority of the group's content was posted by administrators themselves.

The most frequent themes were posts in support of Bolsonaro, attacks on political opponents and on institutions, and content critical of the left and of communism.

Among misinformative posts were those advocating for "paper ballots" and implying the existence of unproven electoral fraud, or denialist posts about the COVID-19 pandemic, of which many advocated for ‘early treatment’ or were anti-vaccine.

A July 8 post on the group publicized a study that supposedly proved a reduction in COVID deaths with the use of ivermectin. The content, which totaled almost 50 interactions, was classified as false by fact-checking agencies and flagged on the platform as misinformative.

On June 29, a post that reached 27 likes and shares featured a speech by President Jair Bolsonaro in which he said that the current voting system would allow for fraud. The information is false. No electoral fraud cases involving electronic ballot boxes have been registered since the system was implemented in 1996, according to the Superior Electoral Court (TSE).

COORDINATED SHARING

The fact that many posts come from the same few people is one indication that these are coordinated publications, which come from a "central" structure ⁠— represented by the administrators ⁠— and are distributed to as many people as possible, without the need for automation.

Other signs identified by Núcleo on the Ordem Dourada do Brasil are the co-administration of groups and the coordinated sharing of content.

"Coordination is the concept of a group posting the same thing in several places and posting it at the same time," sums up DFRLab researcher Luiza Bandeira. She also points out that this kind of behavior can come from organic profiles. "It doesn't necessarily have to do with automation, and many times it is far from that.”

Coordination becomes clearer in posts on the page Foro Conservador Cristão do Brasil (Christian Conservative Forum of Brazil). The community, associated with the organization Ordem Dourada do Brasil, does live broadcasts almost every week on the platform.

During these live broadcasts, the organizers ⁠— who use the byname "Patriot" ⁠— comment on the country’s recent events, almost always bringing forth misinformative arguments.

In one of the most viewed live broadcasts on the page, streamed on Oct. 26, they called the COVID-19 vaccines "experimental" and "dangerous," and spread false narratives about the origin of the virus, implying that it is a "grand global conspiracy." The broadcast was viewed by more than 1,500 people on Facebook.

Part of the live broadcasts' success is explained by the moderators' efforts to share and republish content across multiple pages and groups.

Less than ten minutes after the video was posted, a single profile distributed it in six different groups. A few minutes later, the profile Priscila Cardoso posted it in three other groups and in her personal account, followed by the profile Jack Van, who posted it in seven other communities. The strategy was also repeated in other popular live broadcasts published by the Christian Conservative Forum.

CONSPIRACY, INTERVENTION, AND WEAPONISM

The network is managed by 11 pages and profiles, of which six also manage another smaller group, which in turn has three other profiles as administrators. Each of them participates in and even moderates other pages and groups, sharing posts from one place to another.

Many also have more than one account on the platform ⁠— a harmful practice identified by the acronym SUMA. One of the administrators, for example, has a profile entitled "Melo Dilermando," another one with the name "Dilermando Melo" and at least one more with the name "Diler Patriota" (Diler Patriot).

The largest of these pages is the "Christian Conservative Forum of Brazil," which has more than 45,000 likes and created about 45% of the posts in the "Ordem Dourada do Brasil" group. There are also three other related pages: Reação CAC (Hunters, Shooters and Collectors Reaction), Agência Central de Inteligência (Central Intelligence Agency), and Ordem Dourada do Brasil Comando SP-ZL (Ordem Dourada do Brasil São Paulo-West Zone Command).

While some publications directly attack the legitimacy of the Brazilian electoral system, alleging fraud in the electronic ballot box, others defend domestic military intervention and the return of the dictatorship. There are also publications focused on weaponry, especially in the CACs (Hunters, Shooters and Collectors) category.

Finally, there are posts with misinformation linked to COVID-19, such as the promotion of drugs that have already been proven ineffective and false information about vaccination.

BEYOND FACEBOOK

When looking at the group’s management, the networked and coordinated structure becomes clear.

Behind the group Ordem Dourada do Brasil, there are 11 profiles and pages as administrators. Of these 11, six administer another subgroup, which has three other administrators. Each of these users participates and acts as moderator in other groups, sharing publications from the original group (ODB).

But the organization also exists beyond Facebook, registered under the name "Central Intelligence Agency".

Based in Ferraz de Vasconcelos (São Paulo), the company operates in the field of private investigations. The president of the company was Fernando Maurício Correa, known on social networks as "Nando Patriota" (Nando Patriot).

On Facebook, he commanded the profile "Apenas Graveto" (Just a Twig) ⁠— his fourth account on the network, according to its description ⁠— one of the administrators of the “Ordem Dourada do Brasil” group.

In Oct. 2021, Nando died of a cardiac arrest, as reported in posts on the group and page, but the network remained active. With the leader’s absence, another group was created, the "Christian Conservative Forum of Brazil," which is still small (just over 500 members).

The network is also present on Telegram, with a channel with more than 5,600 followers and two groups with almost 5,000 members.

COORDINATED SOCIAL DAMAGE

It wasn't until Sept. 2021, six months after internal alerts, that Meta announced a new policy to address coordinated networks of authentic and inauthentic behavior that can cause coordinated social harm ⁠— the name used by Meta to refer to "activities [co]ordinated or directed by [foreign] [state] actors or adversaries with intent to cause or contribute to severe social harm."

Severe social harm, on the other hand, is operationalized by FB on a scale from severe to mild, with the most severe justifying action such as account and page removal, and the mildest justifying moderate action.


Ordem Dourada do Brasil’s violation falls into category 4, which would warrant moderate action by the platform, according to the scale. In the document, officials recommend taking down or demoting the network.

The policy update targeted adversarial groups that had been carrying out influence operations and blurring the lines between authentic public debate and manipulation, hampering the platform’s ability to act proactively.

In announcing the update, Meta used as an example the actions it had taken against a network of pages and groups related to Querdenken, a German denialist and conspiracy-minded, anti-vaccine, and anti-lockdown movement that often enacts off-platform violence.

The platform has removed accounts, pages and groups on Facebook and Instagram for repeated violations of Community Standards and blocked the domains from being shared on the platform.

In March 2021, Facebook officials assessed that the mitigation strategies being used thus far were not enough. Responses related to content, for example, were not applied on a global scale, did not take into account the coordinated nature of the activity, and did not allow for continuous enforcement of platform policies against specific actors.

Until then, the company's moderation was limited to Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior, referring to fake accounts. This became a problem when the coordinated behavior started coming from real accounts.

For the platform, the importance of countering this type of behavior came from the perception of highly coordinated activities on Meta products by "adversarial actors, including States, foreign actors, and actors with a history of criminal, violent, or hateful behavior, intent on promoting social violence, hatred, exacerbating ethnic and other divisions, and/or delegitimizing social institutions through misinformation."

According to Facebook/Meta, this type of activity is particularly prevalent and problematic in At Risk Countries and Contexts, a classification that would apply to Brazil.

HOW WE DID IT

The information was obtained from documents disclosed to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and provided to the U.S. Congress in edited form by Frances Haugen's legal counsel, in what became known as the Facebook Papers.

The redacted versions received by the U.S. Congress were reviewed by a consortium of news outlets.

Núcleo Jornalismo had access to the documents and publishes this report in partnership with Aos Fatos.

These documents were first reported by the Wall Street Journal, which called the series the Facebook Files.

The investigation gathered, through CrowdTangle's API (a social network monitoring tool), all the 2021 posts on the Ordem Dourada do Brasil group. Then, we individually analyzed the 200 messages with the most interactions, classified each one according to its theme, and investigated the presence of misinformation.

We contacted all profiles and pages whose relationship with the Ordem Dourada do Brasil network was identified.

None of the main accounts, which serve as administrators of the Facebook groups, responded to us. We received only one message from a secondary profile, which neither answered the questions sent nor denied participation in the network.

Reporting by Laís Martins, Ethel Rudnitzki, Débora Ely and João Barbosa
Edited by Samira Menezes and Sérgio Spagnuolo



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