January 13, 2023

Fifteen hundred pro-Bolsonaro protesters have been detained in the Brazilian Jan. 8 capitol riot redolent of the one that happened two years ago at the United States Capitol, according to the Wall Street Journal. Fact-checkers are calling the more recent case of unrest more serious, due largely to a lack of immediate response on the part of Brazilian police and social media companies.

“These vandals, who we could call fanatical fascists, did what has never been done in the history of this country,” Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said at a press conference. “All these people who did this will be found and they will be punished.” 

Former President Barack Obama tweeted, “The entire world has a stake in the success of Brazil’s democracy. Together, we must reject any effort to overturn or disrupt the will of the Brazilian people and affirm the peaceful transfer of power as a cornerstone of democracy.”

Journalists and fact-checkers in Brazil have noted marked similarities and differences between the attacks.

“There is a very common narrative between the far-right movement that the invasion of public buildings in Brasilia was made by leftist supporters who infiltrated their ranks, but this is false,” said Natália Leal, the CEO of Agencia Lupa, a prominent fact-checking outlet in Brazil. “The other thing that we saw was that some people who were detained on Sunday died in the Polícia Federal building, which is also false. There is no record of that at all.”

Leal wrote an opinion piece calling the Brazilian version of the capitol riots “bigger and more frightening” than its American counterpart.

“While in the USA the police forces acted immediately to contain the raiders, here in Brazil, up to the present moment, evidence suggests that these forces were lenient,” wrote Leal. “Military police officers in charge of protecting the head offices of the three branches of government not only escorted a mob that premeditated attacks as well as had ringside seats to everything, recording in videos and selfies of all the actions of the criminals.”

Aos Fatos, a large Brazilian news and fact-checking outlet, noted supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro profited by broadcasting the riots on YouTube and other social media sites. In its investigations, Aos Fatos also found that messages calling for the invasion were shared as early as Jan. 3, five days prior to the riots.

“Our coverage has been focusing on mapping the role of social media in the planning of the attack, who helped finance the rioters and what narratives emerged from Bolsonaro’s supporters after the event,” said Tai Nalon, executive director of Aos Fatos.

Aos Fatos found, among other things:

  • Some Bolsonaro supporters are encouraging more attacks while simultaneously trying to pin the attacks on leftists.
  • Attackers broadcasted the invasion and monetized their videos on YouTube.
  • The invasion was openly planned, at least since Jan. 3, on TikTok, Kwai, Facebook, Instagram, Telegram and YouTube (and maybe other platforms).

“Despite several platforms’ guidelines against violent content and voter fraud allegations, these posts are still accessible on major social networks and messaging apps,” reads one Aos Fatos article.

The chief dis- and misinformed claims spreading from Brazil’s right, according to Nalon, are that Lula’s election victory was the result of fraud and that Lula’s party, Worker’s Party, intends to install a communist government in Brazil.

“The notion of communism is completely distorted and ranges from the false idea that Lula would confiscate people’s savings and homes to the fear Lula would encourage the construction of unisex bathrooms in schools,” Nalon said.

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Seth Smalley is a reporter at Poynter and the IFCN. Get in touch at seth@poynter.org or on Twitter @sethsalex.
Seth Smalley

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