** This post is one section of a more extensive piece on Brazil’s platform accountability and regulation debate. Click here to read the entire content.
Article 33, paragraph 6 of the bill extends the immunity that Brazil's Constitution ensures for members of Parliament for their opinions, words, and votes in the exercise of their mandates to content published by "political agents" on social networks and private messaging platforms. The term "political agents" in the provision seems to encompass any elected officials in the Executive and Legislative branches at the federal, state, and municipal levels, as well as ministers of state, state and municipal secretaries, and the heads of government entities in general. If this provision is approved, this large set of public officials would be immune to civil and criminal liability for the content they publish online.
The bill gives special speech protections to public officials, while inter-American freedom of expression standards acknowledge that these officials, on the contrary, bear special duties for their statements. These include the duty to ensure that their statements do not constitute arbitrary interference, direct or indirect, with the rights of those who contribute to the public discourse through the expression and distribution of their thoughts, the duty to ensure that their statements do not amount to human rights violations, and the duty to reasonably verify the facts on which their statements are based.
In view of these duties, the 2021 Joint Declaration of Freedom of Expression Special Rapporteurs addressing increased concerns with the spread of disinformation stressed that States should "a) [a]dopt policies which provide for disciplinary measures to be imposed on public officials who, when acting or perceived to be acting in an official capacity, make, sponsor, encourage or further disseminate statements which they know or should reasonably know to be false. b) [e]nsure that public authorities make every effort to disseminate accurate and reliable information, including about their activities and matters of public interest."
The bill, whose roots rely on similar concerns, contains such a provision that seems to neglect the role that prominent public officials play in creating, funding, and disseminating harmful content online. This provision contradicts PL 2360's purported goals, and Brazilian lawmakers should reject its text.