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Meta Accused of Intimidation in Brazil Over Fraudulent Ad Reports

Meta reportedly sought to discredit researchers who found fraudulent advertising on its platforms, after key role in legal case.


Meta is under scrutiny for allegedly attempting to undermine university researchers in Brazil who identified fraudulent advertisements on its platform. Documents obtained by Brazilian news agency Núcleo reveal that Meta's legal team challenged the credibility of researchers from NetLab at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).

Allegations of Intimidation and Criticism

Findings by NetLab played a significant role in Brazil's National Consumer Secretariat (Senacon) imposing a $6.6 million fine on Meta in 2022 for user . The study revealed Meta's failure to remove over 1,800 scam ads exploiting a government debt relief program, despite receiving notifications. Meta's lawyers from TozziniFreire countered, accusing NetLab of bias and not engaging with Meta during the research.

The administrative filings, dated December 26 of last year, were shared through freedom of information requests to Senacon. An anonymous NetLab representative cited by Núcleo expressed shock at the law firm's portrayal, noting broader attacks on Brazilian science by far-right factions.

More than 70 civil society groups, including NetLab, issued an open letter condemning Meta's approach. They labeled Meta's actions as an intimidation tactic against scientific inquiry and emphasized the importance of research in public debates around platform accountability, particularly concerning harmful paid content.

Broader Research Challenges

Meta's attempts to limit research into its ad platform are not new. In 2021, Meta disabled accounts of NYU's Ad Observatory Project researchers, alleging terms of service violations, which researchers criticized as a move to hinder legitimate investigations into disinformation. Meta has also subpoenaed third-party developers who created an unofficial API for educational and research purposes, again citing terms of service violations.

In its legal defense, Meta accused NetLab's report of containing “a series of imperfections, biased responses, and dubious reliability.” The company claimed that NetLab's research was politically influenced by its lead, Professor Rose Marie Santini, a critic of digital platforms.

Ongoing Legal Proceedings

Senacon's legal case against Meta, initiated in November 2023, is based on NetLab's discovery that Meta failed to remove 1,817 scam ads. These ads misused the name of a widely recognized government program, Desenrola, aimed at helping indebted citizens, and remained live months after official complaints.

Meta's strategy to restrict research includes plans to shut down CrowdTangle, a social media monitoring service acquired in 2016, by August. Meta cites technological and regulatory changes, though CrowdTangle's co-founder, Brandon Silverman, raised concerns about timing, especially with upcoming elections.

Luke Jones
Luke Jones
Luke has been writing about all things tech for more than five years. He is following Microsoft closely to bring you the latest news about Windows, Office, Azure, Skype, HoloLens and all the rest of their products.