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Twitter Files Brazil 2 - The Influencer Uses His Influence.

Felipe Neto Rodrigues Vieira has been a significant figure in the Brazilian public space since he rose to fame on YouTube in the early 2010s by criticizing the musical tastes of teenagers and using harsh words against Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the Workers' Party.

In an ideological shift, he became a campaigner for Lula in the 2022 race, which led to Lula's third term as president.

Marcelo Freixo, Felipe Neto and Lula.

This realignment culminated in Lula's government inviting Felipe Neto to join a working group of the Ministry of Human Rights and Citizenship in February 2023, dedicated to "combating hate speech and extremism," with a special focus on regulating social networks.

In the same month, Felipe spoke at UNESCO about the same topic. The group was nicknamed the "Ministry of Truth" by government critics.

Neto is the founder of the Instituto Vero, an NGO partnered with the Superior Electoral Court's Misinformation Confrontation Program. The institution also sponsored events held by the court against misinformation.

We (@shellenberger, @david_agape_ e I

are revealing today (April 10, 2024) that Felipe Neto had privileged access to Twitter, to the extent that a senior employee proposed a private conversation between him and Yoel Roth, who was then the head of safety of the social network.

This invitation was made in the context of the sanctions imposed by Twitter's content moderation on journalist Allan dos Santos, who is now in exile in the United States, protected by the broader standard of free speech of that country.

Twitter's public policy head requests special attention for Allan dos Santos and a meeting with Felipe Neto.

On June 14, 2021, the then head of public policy at Twitter, Fernando Gallo (who now holds a similar position at TikTok's Brazilian office), sent an email to Yoel Roth, head of safety of the social network.

The subject: Gallo asked Roth to personally investigate Allan dos Santos' Twitter account in a "holistic" manner. The journalist "has been very problematic for us in Brazil" and increasingly difficult to handle, Gallo commented, detailing that Santos "insists on posting very controversial things about Covid and other abusive content."

Gallo wanted Roth — involved in the decision to ban Donald Trump's account — to permanently ban Santos' account and to reconsider keeping a tweet online where the journalist "speculated about someone's health status, making a connection between a vaccine and health problems, thus raising doubts about the vaccine's safety," according to the head of public policies of the social network.

This issue is not new in the Twitter Files: in the United States, the social network collaborated with the government and think tanks to remove content critical of pandemic management policies, which in the country violates the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Email from Fernando Gallo.

Roth's decision not to delete Santos' tweet greatly irritated Felipe Neto, who at the time cultivated an image of a defender of lockdowns and other sanitary measures.

As a "request number 2," in the same email, Gallo said that the YouTuber "has been an antagonist and opponent of the current government" of Jair Bolsonaro and "a strong critic of Twitter for what he considers leniency on our part in enforcing our Covid rules."

In other words, Felipe Neto was pressing for a tougher approach in content removal.

"He's pretty angry," Gallo reported, referring to Neto, "and getting increasingly noisy, to the point of starting to tweet about his conversations with us."

Here, therefore, is a suggestion of privileged access of the influencer to lobby his causes within Twitter, in the form of private conversations that Gallo feared might be exposed.

Gallo then invited Roth for another conversation with Neto: "although there are some risks, we and the communications team wanted to see if you would be open to an off-the-record conversation with him, so that he feels he has been heard" and "hopefully, that the tensions would subside a bit."

Second part of Fernando Gallo's email.

Yoel Roth accepts the invitation and analyzes Allan dos Santos' tweet in detail.

CC'd to legal director Vijaya Gadde, Yoel Roth replied six hours later. "The easy response first: I would be glad to talk with Felipe Neto," said the head of Twitter integrity. "We'll continue in a separate message thread regarding the logistics of this, but if you tell me this is a high-value conversation for me to engage in, I’ll gladly do so," he added, including a smiley symbol.

Email from Yoel Roth

In the same 2021 message, Roth then carefully studied Allan dos Santos' case. He admitted that the situation was "a mess" because the content moderation team, using a "ticket" system (like customer service on websites), miscounted the number of violations by Santos.

Regarding the tweet whose online presence irritated Felipe Neto, Roth provided the context that the post referred to the cardiac arrest suffered by Danish football player Christian Eriksen on June 12, 2021, two days before the exchange of messages. Roth said the entire narrative around the cardiac arrest was "challenging."

"On one hand, our policies do not cover speculations about the health status of individuals or potential individual side effects from vaccination," on the other hand, the player "was not vaccinated, so the tweet is misleading about whether there is a possibility that vaccination could have contributed to the problem."

Allan dos Santos' post fell into a "gray area," as "the author speculates about blood clots and myocarditis (both narratives associated with COVID vaccines), but explicitly notes that there is no direct connection to the vaccine. It does not meet the strict criteria we have for inciting fear based on an explicit false claim," Roth explained, ending his analysis of the tweet by recommending labeling it and suspending the account due to other violations.

As I explained in Gazeta do Povo, multiple studies indicate myocarditis and blood clots as real side effects of vaccines, generally at low frequency, with risk varying from vaccine to vaccine and by demographic group. The word "narrative," therefore, especially as a justification for sanctions on user expression on social networks, does not give the issue the seriousness it deserves.

Yoel Roth expresses concern about the temporary judicial victory obtained by Allan dos Santos, at the time, against censorship on YouTube. "I worry that the inherent disorder of this problem could make it a challenge to explain the basis for a suspension action if we were to do it now."

Email signed by Rafael Batista and Diego de Lima Gualda.

Twitter's legal team compares Allan dos Santos to Alex Jones.

After internal discussions by Twitter's legal team, the following day, senior legal advisors Rafael Batista and Diego de Lima Gualda issued their opinion on Allan dos Santos and the proposed meeting with Felipe Neto.

As previously suggested by Gallo, Batista and Gualda agreed that Allan dos Santos is comparable to Alex Jones, an American influencer later convicted in local court, among other reasons, for claiming that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax.

The experts recommended letting the violation count system "run its course, especially since we have concerns in Brazil regarding litigation questioning account suspensions, given the consumer-friendly focus of the local courts," that is, lower courts, which would tend to favor the complainants and not the social network, on which they would impose "the burden of presenting in court copies of the infringing content."

Batista and Gualda accused Santos of manipulating the social network system with the intent to spread misinformation, "but in a context where, for some reason, we failed to apply the relevant policies strictly in an appropriate manner."

For him, the journalist "includes in his most controversial tweets phrases with a speculative air, when in fact they are purposely released to deceive." The consultants also expressed concern about Santos' victory against YouTube and what it meant for Twitter, which therefore had to provide a strong basis for violation of the terms of service in punishing him.

Email signed by Rafael Batista and Diego de Lima Gualda

Finally, the senior legal advisors proposed that Twitter could "take advantage" of decisions by the Supreme Federal Court for the global suspension of one of Allan dos Santos' accounts, in addition to leveraging "media materials" that corroborate "the conspiracy theorist profile" of the journalist.

The experts also made indirect mention of taking advantage of the investigations of the COVID CPI against Santos, expressing suspicion that he was already residing in the United States for "libel tourism," that is, to escape the laws of his country of origin, and considered whether they could fit his behavior of creating new accounts as "bad faith in using the service."

There is, however, a difference in the treatment of freedom of expression between the two countries, as discovered by the Ministry of Justice of Flávio Dino in a meeting with the FBI where a representative said that the alleged crimes of Allan dos Santos were "just words," as reported by Folha de S. Paulo.

Indeed, it was later possible to take advantage of decisions coming from the STF, as shown in an email from a Twitter lawyer (not senior, hence anonymized here), from June 6, 2022, in which she reported that Minister Alexandre de Moraes had ordered the suspension of six Allan dos Santos accounts, along with the collection of data associated with them.

Moraes also wanted monitoring to prevent the creation of new accounts. The lawyer did not question the order and said, "we will report that, if we identify any new related accounts, we will report them to the Supreme Federal Court."

To this day, Santos' accounts remain suspended in Brazil, despite Elon Musk's promise, owner of X (formerly Twitter), to reverse Moraes' orders.

The same message includes the case of censorship imposed by Moraes on the communist party PCO in the context of the Fake News Inquiry.

Email from Twitter lawyer kept anonymous.

"Felipe Neto is someone we cannot trust to keep off-the-record conversations"

Batista and Gualda concluded their June 15, 2021, email recommending that Yoel Roth not meet with Felipe Neto. The meeting "presents additional risks in our strategy," as "Felipe Neto is someone we cannot fully trust to maintain an off-the-record conversation" (away from official records and the public eye). The consultants warned that the influencer might try to take advantage of both the scenario of Allan dos Santos' ban and the profile's persistence.

Second part of the email signed by Batista and Gualda.

Batista and Gualda concluded their June 15, 2021, email recommending that Yoel Roth not meet with Felipe Neto. The meeting "presents additional risks in our strategy," as "Felipe Neto is someone we cannot fully trust to maintain an off-the-record conversation" (away from official records and the public eye). The consultants warned that the influencer might try to take advantage of both the scenario of Allan dos Santos' ban and the profile's persistence.

The two legal advisors were aware that the meeting, if it occurred, would create "an opportunity for any narrative that claims that Twitter is biased by opening a specific communication channel with Felipe Neto that is not open 'to the other side,' that Twitter is not following its own procedures/policies consistently," instead "responding to pressure" from a famous user.

They also warned that the meeting could be used by Allan dos Santos in court against them. "So, in our opinion, the risks of having this conversation with him [Neto] outweigh the potential benefits," they concluded. As made clear by Fernando Gallo's initial message, however, the communication channel with Felipe Neto had already been opened.

From the Twitter files, it was not possible to determine whether the meeting between Yoel Roth and Felipe Neto took place.

The report spoke with Allan dos Santos and contacted Felipe Neto, Gallo, Batista, and Gualda, who have not yet commented. See Santos' comment soon in the coverage by Gazeta do Povo.

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