Facebook Removes Bolsonaro Video Claiming Vaccinated People in UK Are Developing AIDS

Facebook and Instagram have removed a live video broadcast of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for violating Facebook's COVID-19 vaccine policy.

Bolsonaro said during the live video that people in the U.K. who had received two COVID-19 vaccination doses were developing AIDS faster than unvaccinated individuals. The video was removed on Sunday night, three days after it was posted.

"Our policies don't allow claims that COVID-19 vaccines kill or seriously harm people," Facebook's press office said in an emailed statement to the Associated Press. Facebook did not respond to questions from AP regarding why it took three days to remove Bolsonaro's content.

Bolsonaro spoke on the incident during a radio interview Monday, saying he had read a news article published in Brazil last October that gave him the information. According to the fact-checking service Aos Fatos, the article did in fact exist, but was loosely related to only one vaccine, Russia's Sputnik shot.

Bolsonaro remains unvaccinated but contracted COVID-19 last year.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro
Facebook and Instagram have removed a live video broadcast of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for violating Facebook's COVID-19 vaccine policy. Bolsonaro is shown here on Oct. 22, 2021, attending a speech at the Ministry of Economy, in Brasilia, Brazil. Eraldo Peres/Associated Press

He spent months sowing doubt about vaccines, especially the one produced by Chinese firm Sinovac. He also warned Brazilians that there would be no legal recourse against Pfizer for anyone suffering side effects, and joked that might include women growing beards or people transforming into alligators.

Last year, Facebook and Instagram removed posts by the far-right leader that violated community guidelines for COVID-19, including one video in which he claimed the anti-malarial hydroxychloroquine was curing COVID-19 the world over. Broad testing has shown the drug to be ineffective in treating the virus. A few months later, Facebook removed dozens of accounts, some used by employees of Bolsonaro and two of his lawmaker sons, for engaging in "coordinated inauthentic behavior."

But this marked the first time Facebook removed one of Bolsonaro's weekly live broadcasts that serve as a direct channel of communication with his supporters and tend to rack up hundreds of thousands of views.

Bolsonaro has 14.6 million followers on Facebook, and almost 19 million on Instagram. Social media platforms, including the Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp, were key for his election victory in 2018. He will run for re-election one year from now. Lately, his allies have been calling on backers to join rival platforms, particularly Telegram.

Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes is overseeing an investigation into the dissemination of allegedly false news that targets close allies of the president, two of his sons and — as of August — Bolsonaro himself. Last week, de Moraes ordered the preventative imprisonment of a prominent Bolsonaro booster and blogger currently residing in the U.S., and directed the federal police to ask Interpol to put out a red alert.

Facebook's actions in Brazil come amid a deluge of stories by 17 American media organizations, including the AP, based on internal company documents alleging the company failed to adequately and quickly deal with misinformation. The disclosures were made to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress in redacted form by former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen's legal counsel. The redacted versions were obtained by a consortium of news organizations, including the AP.