Facebook on Wednesday suspended a network of social media accounts it said were used to spread divisive political messages online by employees of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and two of his sons.
The company said that despite efforts to disguise who was behind the activity, it had found links to the staff of two Brazilian lawmakers, as well as the president and his sons, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro and Senator Flavio Bolsonaro.
Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy, said the accounts were removed for using fake personas and other types of coordinated inauthentic behavior which violated the company's rules.
He said there was no evidence the politicians themselves had operated the accounts. What we can prove is that employees of those offices are engaged on our platforms in this type of behavior, announced the company's blog.
Facebook said it has also suspended three other networks on Wednesday, including one it attributed to Roger Stone, a longtime friend and adviser of US President Donald Trump.
The allegations by Facebook add to a burgeoning political crisis in Brazil, where Bolsonaro's sons and supporters have been accused of running a coordinated online campaign to smear the president's opponents.
The accusations have spurred a congressional inquiry and a separate Supreme Court investigation into so-called fake news attacks on the country's judiciary, which led to police raids in May on the homes and offices of Bolsonaro allies.
Bolsonaro, who is also under mounting criticism over his handling of the coronavirus outbreak, has said the court's investigation is unconstitutional and risks establishing censorship in Brazil by policing what people can say online.
Gleicher said his team had identified and suspended more than 80 accounts on Facebook and its photo-sharing site, Instagram, as part of the Brazilian network. The accounts had amassed 1.8 million followers, he said, and some dated back to 2018.
Researchers at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, who spent a week analyzing the activity identified by Facebook, said they had found five current and former political staffers who registered and operated the accounts.
Some of those accounts posed as fake Brazilians and news outlets to spread hyper-partisan views supporting Bolsonaro and attacking his critics, said researcher Luiza Bandeira. Their targets included opposition lawmakers, former ministers and members of Brazil's Supreme Court.