As thousands of supporters of Jair Bolsonaro invaded the buildings of power in Brazil on Sunday, the role of social networks is once again pointed out, and in particular that of Twitter.
“I hope that the citizens of Brazil will be able to solve this problem peacefully,” wrote Elon Musk on Sunday evening. Like the whole world, he discovered the images sent from Brasilia, where thousands of supporters of Jair Bolsonaro stormed the buildings of power. The latter are still contesting the result of the last presidential election, which allowed the left-wing candidate, Lula, to take over as head of state. During these hours of chaos which recalled the invasion of the Capitol on January 6, 2021 in the United States by supporters of Donald Trump, observers could, once again, only note the major role played by social networks.
If Facebook and Telegram are, as often, held responsible for the rise of the far right online, this time it is Twitter that is at the heart of the controversy. While the platform tried, somehow, to limit hate speech, its takeover by Elon Musk apparently played an important role in events in Brazil. Since the billionaire took over the management of the social network, many formerly banned accounts have been able to make a comeback. According to a BBC analysis, a number of prominent Brazilian Twitter accounts, which spread rumors about the election, have been reinstated by Elon Musk. The accounts had previously been banned.
“Twitter staff may have given preference to left-leaning candidates”
Moderation in Brazil has also practically disappeared from the platform since its arrival. The “Washington Post”, quoting Brazilian researchers, indicates that Twitter, “in particular”, was used by “a circle of far-right influencers”. Since last October and Lula’s victory, the former president’s allies have claimed that the election was rigged. Elon Musk himself offered his opinion on Brazilian politics last December. “I saw a lot of disturbing tweets about the recent election in Brazil. If these tweets are correct, Twitter staff may have given their preference to left-leaning candidates.” He suggested that some of Twitter’s employees in Brazil were “strongly partisan politically” without giving details or evidence.
Going even further, the South African billionaire has fired a large majority of Twitter employees in Brazil, keeping only sales people. The “Washington Post” writes that among those sent back, eight, installed in Sao Paulo, had the mission of doing online moderation. Their role was to take action against statements inciting violence and misinformation. This team has been disbanded.
I’ve seen a lot of concerning tweets about the recent Brazil election. If those tweets are accurate, it’s possible that Twitter personnel gave preference to left wing candidates.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 3, 2022
Close to Trump allies
On other platforms, it was Donald Trump’s allies who applauded the assault in Brasilia. Steve Bannon, in particular, who from the first round of the election in Brazil had declared in his podcast: “It all stinks”. “Lula stole the election…Brazilians know it,” he wrote several times on the Gettr website. He called the people who stormed the buildings “Freedom Fighters” (freedom fighters), reports BBC News. Jair Bolsonaro’s ties to the Trump movement were highlighted by a meeting last November between the former president and Jair Bolsonaro’s son at Donald Trump’s property in Florida. During Sunday’s assault, the former Brazilian president was also in the United States.
After several hours of chaos, the security forces regained control of the buildings invaded by hundreds of anti-Lula demonstrators and arrested more than 200 people, according to the Minister of Justice and Security Flavio Dino. The area had been cordoned off by the authorities. But the bolsonarists, for many dressed in the yellow jersey of the Seleçao, the Brazilian football team, a symbol that they appropriated, managed to force the security cordons. They caused considerable damage to the three huge palaces, which are treasures of modern architecture and are full of works of art. Lula announced that he would return to work this Monday in his offices in Brasilia.