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The attack on Brazil's Congress was stoked by social media

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The images from Brasilia seem to mirror the January attacks on the U.S. Capitol. Our co-host, A Martínez, spoke with NPR's Shannon Bond about another similarity.

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Well, it seems that many of the protesters in Brasilia were motivated by calls to action online, specifically posts in Telegram and WhatsApp groups. And, you know, both of those are messaging apps that are really popular in Brazil. You know, in many cases, they were organizing basically in plain sight. There were offers of free transportation by bus, free food. Now, some of these posts did use coded language about a party to urge people to come to Brasilia. That was an - apparently an attempt to avoid being caught by the social networks, which have been on alert in Brazil. And then as some of these folks stormed the government buildings, this is all being livestreamed on YouTube. There were photos and videos being shared to Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, and many people were praising the rioters.

A MARTÍNEZ, BYLINE: So, yeah, that sounds very similar to the scene in Washington a couple of years ago. So, I mean, when you consider that, given what you said, social networks were on alert in Brazil, how was this able to happen?

BOND: Well, Bolsonaro and his supporters have been seeding the ground with these claims of election fraud even before he lost the presidential election back in October. And those claims were amplified, you know, not just by Brazilian influencers on the right, but also American allies like Steve Bannon, the former Trump White House adviser. On Sunday, he was cheering on the rioters as freedom fighters. And all of this spread widely online over many months, despite many of these platforms' claims they were monitoring the situation. I spoke with Jiore Craig. She studies elections and online platforms at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. And she says it's a matter of priorities for these companies.

JIORE CRAIG: There is a lot that they are doing for English language markets that they just simply don't invest in in other markets.

BOND: And then, she says, when these companies do respond to problems, it's typically because of external pressure - you know, bad PR. And fundamentally, that does not address the ways their products can be used to amplify these kinds of anti-democratic movements. Another thing I'll say is, at the same time, Brazil does have pretty aggressive regulations about online speech. The government has the power to compel platforms to take down content, to ban accounts. But that didn't stop this from happening either.

MARTÍNEZ: And then this comes at a time when Facebook's parent company, Meta, is about to announce whether it's going to restore former President Donald Trump's account that it banned after January 6. I mean, could the events that happened in Brazil affect that decision?

BOND: Well, the short answer is we don't know yet. Trump's two-year ban was up on Saturday, just the day before this all unfolded in Brazil. Meta says in making this decision, it's considering the level of risk. It's basically trying to decide, is it safe to let Trump back on Facebook and Instagram? Now, clearly the situation here in the U.S. is different now than it was in 2021. You know, but part of that is that, you know, the election denial movement that Trump, you know, really kind of has come to symbolize has hardened. It's become part of mainstream American politics. And then when you look around the world, you have far-right movements, including in Brazil, which are cross-pollinating. They're encouraging each other. They're taking inspiration from one another. And so the question is, is that broader question of public safety risks something Meta is considering?

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Shannon Bond. Shannon, thanks.

BOND: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Shannon Bond is a business correspondent at NPR, covering technology and how Silicon Valley's biggest companies are transforming how we live, work and communicate.