UPDATE 1-Brazilian Senator Says Social Media Companies May Be Asked About Role of Pandemic

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By Ricardo Brito

BRASILIA, June 22 (Reuters) – The head of a Brazilian senatorial committee tasked with investigating the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic said on Tuesday that the body could investigate social media companies, raising questions about the responsibilities of companies in the event of disinformation published on their platforms.

Last week, the vice-chairman of the Senate committee, Randolfe Rodrigues, called for representatives from Google, Facebook and Twitter to testify before the investigative panel, known as the ICC. The requests have not yet been approved by other lawmakers in the body.

On Tuesday, CPI President Senator Omar Aziz said that if representatives would testify as witnesses to alleged crimes perpetrated via the Internet, the companies themselves could potentially be investigated.

“Prescribing drugs through YouTube, Instagram, Twitter is a crime,” Aziz said during Senate deliberations.

“They are called in as witnesses, but, yes, they could be investigated if the commission so decides. So it would be good if they came here and properly explain what kind of platforms allow – for a disease if difficult and painful for Brazil – that they still allow their platforms to spread drugs that have no scientific basis. “

A representative for Twitter Inc declined to comment on Aziz’s statements, but said the company has rolled out initiatives to “protect the conversation around the pandemic,” such as promoting links to credible information about COVID-19 . Instagram owner Facebook Inc and YouTube owner Google did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

Brazil has been one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, with more than 500,000 deaths, just behind the United States.

President Jair Bolsonaro has advocated treatments with little scientific basis such as hydroxychloroquine and invermectin, sometimes as an alternative to proven methods like social distancing and vaccines.

Millions of Brazilians have taken to social media in search of unproven and sometimes eccentric ways to prevent and treat COVID-19.

The ICC does not have the power to hold anyone criminally responsible, but it can transmit its findings to law enforcement. (Reporting by Ricardo Brito; Additional reporting by Eduardo Simões in Sao Paulo; Writing by Gram Slattery Editing by Paul Simao and Bernadette Baum)

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