In Brazil, Twitter users fear effect of Musk’s rule | Business and Economy News

It’s Easter and Lola Aronovich, a Brazilian literature professor, is enjoying a vacation at a beach with no internet access, completely unaware of the defamation campaign being staged against her on the internet. Twitter.

That day in April 2015, the son of Geraldo Alckmin, former governor of São Paulo and now vice president-elect of Brazil, tragically died in a helicopter crash. Aronovich watched the events unfold on TV and went home three days later – only to find thousands of cynical posts aimed at her on Twitter for something she didn’t do.

“A fake tweet was made while I was lamenting that Alckmin was not in the accident. [The attackers] say I deleted the tweet right after posting it. The post went viral and I was intimidated by politicians, academics and users with a large following,” Aronovich, a lecturer at Ceara Federal University, told Al Jazeera.

“I said I never wrote that. A far-right Twitter user found the image to be false, but the damage was done. Some people [who reposted the fake tweet] deleted their post, but no one ever apologized to me,” she said.

This is one of many times Aronovich, who uses Twitter to discuss feminist and human rights issues, has been bullied and abused on the social networking platform.

“Someone kept harassing me for three years and I was constantly attacked. I’ve blocked tens of thousands of users over the past decade,” said the professor, who has nearly 200,000 followers on Twitter.

Twitter Blue: ‘License to attack’

Things are not going well for activists like Aronovich with changes to the platform under new owner Elon Musk, specifically the paid verification product Twitter Blue.

“I get anonymous comments on my blog saying they can’t wait until [Twitter Blue] available in Brazil. They are planning to create a verified profile in my name to smear me as they please,” Aronovich said.

The professor is concerned about Musk’s plan to execute on his vision as a “free-speech autocrat” and make a profit.

“This is extremely dangerous, because [Musk’s] Aronovich said: “[Twitter Blue] really a license to attack.

There are more concerns about how the new regulation will affect the democratic debate on the platform. With 19 million users, Twitter is the ninth largest social network in Brazil, far behind WhatsApp, the country’s most popular social app with 165 million users according to We Are Social and Hootsuite data.


According to David Nemer, a professor at the University of Virginia and a research associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, despite its relatively small user base, microblogging plays an important role. important in shaping public opinion online.

“It seems that all Brazilians use Twitter even though they don’t, because prints of what is published there are widely shared on other social networks, like WhatsApp,” he said.

Nemer said Twitter misinformation directed at Brazilian users has gotten significantly worse in recent years. He noted that the platform was not prepared to increase its domestic relevance, given the attention President Jair Bolsonaro has garnered on Twitter as he uses the platform – and the media. other social networks – to reach voters during his election campaign in 2018, a first in the South American country. That, in turn, has fueled a surge in adoption of the tool across the political spectrum.

With nearly 70,000 followers on Twitter, Nemer uses the platform as both an activism tool and to advance her academic research, focusing on the production and distribution of disinformation by far-right groups. through messaging apps like Telegram and WhatsApp.

Similar to Aronovich, Nemer’s Twitter activity made him a target, with threats being regularly received. He’s concerned Musk’s recent decisions, such as removing a division focused on making the platform’s algorithms fairer and more transparent, will have dire consequences.

“Absoluteism in freedom of speech is a bad thing in Brazil because it directly impacts the very core of democracy and discourages people of all social classes, races, and ethnicities,” he notes. Different ethnicities and sexual orientations participate in this platform.

More broadly, pundits believe Twitter will continue to play an important role in the new government led by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was elected last month.

“The war on misinformation is likely to continue as it involves establishing narratives and taking over space. Twitter is key in that sense and I see no one [in the political scene] let that pass,” Nemer added.

Last week Musk says Twitter will limit the reach of negative or hateful content – something that was done before he bought the company – while avoiding the removal of those posts.

“[Musk] trying to show progressive audiences that he’s doing something to stop hate speech, since these people have left the platform in bulk,” Nemer said.

However, Ale Santos, a Brazil-based author of Afrofuturism and a Twitter influencer, says such methods to limit the spread of hateful content are somewhat ineffective.

“Those who spread false and hurtful content online are constantly studying the limits of this platform and upgrading their way of spreading hate online,” Santos points out.

Paying for verification is a ‘luxury’

After Bolsonaro took office in 2019, Santos began to use the platform more aggressively to voice his political views.

“You cannot utter a word against the government and army of [Bolsonaro] Supporters will pour down like tons of bricks to insult, bully and criticize,” he said.

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“They are not interested in the debate itself. Instead, they focus on creating controversy that will resonate online,” said Santos, a fiction writer who has more than 145,000 followers and has engaged in some heated debates with users. , including the president’s son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, and others. the right influencers.

After realizing that his Twitter activity was affecting his mental health, Santos chose to take his activity to other platforms.

“I decided to do it through my podcast and through my literary work. I leave Twitter aside for those debates: I still say what I think there, but don’t engage in personal clashes with people,” he noted.

Santos said the plan to monetize the platform while turning it into a “town square” where everyone can have a say, makes no sense when placed in the Brazilian reality.

“A town square would be great if people could be in it. As a white American man, Musk proved quite alien to other cultures. In Brazil, where food insecurity is worsening, paying for verification on a social networking site is a luxury. It will amplify the social distance in the platform and turn it into a stage for extremists,” Santos said.

On Saturday Musk bring Donald Trump backone day after he announced the platform has reinstated some banned Twitter users including author Jordan Peterson, comedian Kathy Griffin and conservative parody store The Babylon Bee. Santos believes the latest decisions are a nod to far-right audiences.

“By doing that, [Musk] is implying that things will be easier for that group,” he said, adding that this is also unlikely to please advertisers. “[Reinstating banned users] is another measure that could destabilize the platform.”

Al Jazeera did not receive a response to requests for comment sent to Twitter Brazil’s media team or their country manager, Fiamma Zarife.

Bruna Martins dos Santos, a global internet governance and data protection consultant, says not paying enough attention to the local context is a long-standing problem on social media sites like Twitter.

“The content policies of these platforms are an imperative from the United States to the rest of the world, created as a reflection of the invasion of the Capitol, not political processes occurring elsewhere. ,” she said, referring to former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey admitting to the US Congress that the site played a role in the Capitol riots.

Need regulation

According to Santos, the US also needs clear regulations on what platforms can or cannot do. Brazil has proposed a bill regulating social media that is currently stuck in Congress.

“Surname [the US] There are also no data protection laws, while Brazil has one,” she said.

At an event organized by the LIDE group of Brazilian business leaders in New York on Monday, Brazilian Supreme Court judge Alexandre de Moraes emphasized the role of legislators in addressing the situation. spreading misinformation online in Brazil. The judge also reinforced his plan to put regulations on social networks so that they are no longer “no man’s land”.

Bill Thompson, an internet pioneer in the UK and a commentator at Digital Planet, a BBC World Service technology, says Twitter has become the center of public discussion globally, the lack of management mechanism that takes into account its importance is “regrettable”. program.

“It’s a sign that we’re not thinking right about the importance of these platforms,” ​​he said.

As for how Musk can ensure that Twitter is a better place to promote democratic debate, Thompson noted, “He could say, ‘Let’s make this a public square where we we can boast, with active technology, tools and facilities. contribute to humanity, and do this as my legacy.’”

Thompson added: “No one should own a town square” and that the platform can survive under the trust of the public.

“[Musk] is someone who has many other businesses, is rich and does not need [Twitter] to make a profit,” he said. “Twitter can be independent of him and really everything else.”

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