By Mateo Diaz-Magaloni / Terra 360-Global Exchange
Shortly after Brazil’s contentious presidential elections on October 2nd gave challenger Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva a 5-percentage point advantage over President Jair Bolsonaro, Manuel Ortiz Escamez, from Peninsula 650 press, interviewed Professor Paulo Fonseca of the Universidad Federal de Bahía, in Salvador de Bahía, Brazil. The interview focused on Bolsonaro’s digital militias.These militias are known for soliciting violence and hate through internet platforms that are not closely monitored.
Fonseca is an expert in investigating these far-right groups, mainly known as digital Bolsonaristas. Fonseca’s current project monitors 500-600 channels on Telegram, a platform that uses encrypted instant messaging as well as chat channels like those on Twitter and Facebook. His research finds that 1 out of 5 channels posted on Telegram utilize links to other platforms, such as YouTube, where what can only be described as “fake news” disseminates. With millions of Brazilians utilizing Telegram, the messages of these far-right militias have the possibility to ignite violence and heightened political polarization in Brazil, according to Fonseca.
Fonseca reported, “Telegram has become an ecosystem for central distribution of news, and Bolsonaristas have used this platform as an opportunity to spread fake news and to divide the nation.” According to his research, they are also spreading fascist ideas through social media. This can be very dangerous to Brazil’s current political situation, which is divided and turbulent amid the upcoming runoff for the presidential election that will take place on October 30th.
Not only does Fonseca use the term “digital militias”, but others in the country have also started to characterize these groups as imminent threats to security. These social media channels have created a threat to groups with liberal ideas. Organized campaigns through Telegram have real-life implications for the nation. Similar to the results of the 2020 elections in the US, far-right Bolsonaristas are already speculating about election fraud with no objective evidence. There is a real possibility for events such as the January 6th insurrection on the US Capitol building, which had a detrimental threat to democracy, to occur in Brazil if Bolsonaro´s supporters continue claiming that the elections will be fraudulent.
According to Fonseca, it is extremely dangerous to say that judicial leaders are rigging the elections and trying to take Bolsonaro out of power. “Dividing the country in this way will elicit further divisions between the poor and the rich, white Brazilians and people of color, and men and women.”
Stanford Political Science Professor Beatriz Magaloni, who has been studying violence and policing in Brazil for the past ten years, believes that Bolsonaros’ militias are an imminent threat to democracy. Magaloni states, “If the militia groups in Brazil claim that the elections are fraudulent, it is possible that they will engage in violent behavior against supporters of the Workers Party. Decentralized violent attacks can erupt all over Brazil and could be very hard to control.” Magaloni also explains that “…these right-wing militia groups are often supported or endorsed by police forces, so it is unlikely that they will be prosecuted and sanctioned.”
In our modern age, the influence of digital platforms contributes to greater polarization, the spread of fake news, and the empowerment of populist leaders who thrive on hate speech and the provocation of violence.