Opinion & analysis
By Felipe Estefan and Rafael Georges

January 8th riots in Brazil: it’s time to build a democracy that works for all

On January 8th, Brazilian democracy was attacked when rioters stormed the Congress, presidential palace, and Supreme Court. The disturbing images of the assault were reminiscent of the insurrection in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021. The recent vandalism of spaces of legitimate decision-making and destruction of historical items in these two events send a stark message that the crises targeting democracies around the world are intertwined and have some common causes. 

Big Tech’s role in the Brasilia riots

A key part of the problem is the widespread online presence of mis- and disinformation. As shared in our previous analysis ahead of the Brazilian elections, mis- and disinformation led to aggressions against Black, LGBTQIA+, and women candidates during the campaign, and perpetuated narratives that placed doubt on the legitimacy of the electoral system. 

After the Capitol riots in the US, there were many warning signs to Big Tech platforms about the importance of taking every possible action to guard the electoral integrity in Brazil. In July 2022, civil society organizations, including many of our partners, published a list of suggested preventive measures to be adopted by platforms. An agreement between those companies and the Electoral Supreme Court was signed prior to the elections but proved to be insufficient. 

After the results were announced, far right groups used messaging apps and social media to organize blockades of roads and camps all over Brazil demanding intervention.  In the days prior to the riot, open calls for caravans to go to Brasília circulated online. A report by our partner SumOfUs shows how Meta and Google enabled and profited from the attacks. The unrest also turned platform regulation into a priority topic for the new Brazilian government. 

This is something to watch closely, as whatever happens in Brazil may set a precedent for the whole region, particularly because other Latin American countries face general elections this year. What happened on January 8th was avoidable. We hope that all those who attacked Brazilian democracy or were negligent with it are held accountable. Luminate has been working in Brazil for more than ten years, and we are in close contact with our partners about the implications of the attacks. We will continue speaking out against the negative impacts of unchecked Big Tech power both in the country and across the region. Our goal is to advocate for a regulation that reduces harmful content while upholding freedom of speech. 

Building a democracy for all in Brazil

We also renew our commitment to a vision of a future where underrepresented groups in Brazil have an equal say in society. Women, LGBTQIA+, Black, and Indigenous people depend on meaningful civic and political engagement, as well as a healthier public debate, in order to have the ability to live with equal opportunities and dignity, where their rights are respected and structural inequalities are overcome.

That’s why on January 11, just three days after the attacks, we were so moved to see Anielle Franco, a Black activist raised in a favela, and Indigenous leader Sonia Guajajara take office as Minister of Racial Equality and Minister of Indigenous People of Brazil, respectively. Contrasting with the scenes of violence that occurred in the same building just a few days prior, their swearing-in ceremony at the presidential palace marked a celebration of Brazilians’ diversity and resistance. 

After the recent attacks, the inauguration of Franco and Guajajara marks a significant moment in shifting the balance of power in Brazil. It’s a reminder that a better, more inclusive democracy that works for everyone is possible.