February 9, 2023

Videos alleging voter fraud in Brazil’s recent elections have been circulating for days on TikTok and YouTube.

An image of a poster announcing the date, time and location of protests against the government was copied and shared over the weekend on WhatsApp and Telegram messaging services.

On Facebook and Twitter on Sunday, organizers used hashtags designed to evade detection by authorities as they descended on government buildings in the capital Brasilia.

A day after thousands stormed government buildings to protest what they falsely claimed was an election stolen, misinformation researchers are examining how the internet is being used to stoke anger and organize far-right groups ahead of riots. Many compared it to the Jan. 6 protests in the US two years ago, when thousands stormed the Capitol in Washington. In both cases, they said, a playbook was used in which online groups, chats and social media sites played a central role.

“Digital platforms have played a major role not only in extreme right-wing domestic terrorism on Sunday, but in Brazil’s entire lengthy process of online radicalization over the past 10 years,” researched Digital Movements and the Far Right in Brazil.

Calls for violence “increased exponentially from the last week of December,” she said.

She and other misinformation researchers single out Twitter and Telegram for playing a central role in organizing the protests. In a post on a Brazilian Telegram channel seen by The New York Times, there were open calls for violence against left-wing Brazilian politicians and their families. There are also addresses of government offices for protesters to attack.

In one image found by The Times on more than a dozen Telegram channels, there was a call for “patriots” to gather in Brasilia on Sunday to “mark a new day of independence”. Below many of the posters are details of when protesters gathered.

The hashtag “Festa da Selma” was also widely circulated on Twitter, including far-right extremists who had previously been banned from the platform, Ms Prado said.

In the months since Elon Musk took over Twitter, the accounts of far-right figures from around the world have been restored to amnesty unless they break the rules again.

Ms. Prado said misinformation researchers in Brazil had been reporting the accounts to Twitter in hopes that the company would take action.

Twitter and Telegram did not respond to requests for comment.

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, said Sunday’s attack was a “compliance violation” and was removing content from its platforms that supported or praised the attack on a Brazilian government building.

Ms Prado said protesters in Brazil and those in the United States had been radicalized online, inspired by the same extremist ideas and conspiracy theories. In both cases, she added, social media played a vital role in organizing the violent attacks.

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