Ways to tackle hate speech in Brazil

Shedding light on virtual attacks, the ‘office of hate’ and combat measures: a look at the impact of extremism in the country post-Bolsonaro

Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) (Photo by JUSTIN SULLIVAN / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) (Photo by JUSTIN SULLIVAN / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

The reporter Constança Rezende, from the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, was preparing to have lunch with her family when she was informed that she was being massacred on the internet. She became the target of Bolsonaro supporters in early 2019 after allegedly trying to “ruin” the life of the former President. The violent virtual attacks began after the ‘Terça Livre’ platform, staffed by pro-Bolsonaro activists, published a post with distorted statements. The post was shared by the then President Jair Bolsonaro, amplifying the reach of the lie. At the Estado newspaper, Constança Rezende was covering the Queiroz case. 

At the time, the newspaper revealed the existence of a “digital militia” structured inside the Presidential Palace and under the command of members of the Bolsonaro family, dedicated to promoting hate attacks against political opponents and adversaries. 

In 2022, in a report prepared for the Supreme Court, the Federal Police confirmed the existence of an “office of hate” used exclusively to organize attacks for the purpose of “ideological, party-political and financial gains”. The office was operational throughout the Bolsonaro government, even spending R$20,000 on Twitter bots, as reported by the former Bolsonaro ally Joice Hasselmann

“Hate speech is used to stoke fear and division, often for political gain, and at immense cost to communities and societies. It incites violence, exacerbates tensions and impedes efforts to foster mediation and dialogue. It is one of the warning signs of genocide and other atrocity crimes,” said the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, in a message for this year’s International Day for Countering Hate Speech, on June 18. 

Strategies to tackle hate speech and extremism

To stop the advance of hate speech we have seen in recent years, the Ministry of Human Rights and Citizenship published, in July, the “Report of Recommendations for Tackling Hate Speech and Extremism in Brazil”, produced by a Working Group chaired by the former federal congresswoman Manuela d’Ávila, who holds a master’s degree and is now studying for a doctorate in public policies, under the rapporteurship of the lawyer and professor Camilo Onoda Luiz Caldas and with the participation of public figures such as the anthropologist Débora Diniz, the University of São Paulo (USP) professor Christian Dunker and the influencer Felipe Neto, among others.

“The Working Group hopes that the report serves as a document to reflect on the urgency of tackling hatred and extremism in Brazil and that it allows prevention and care for victims to be at the center of the institutional and political responses,” wrote d’Ávila and Caldas in the presentation of the report.

Considering the scope and complexity of the impacts of this phenomenon on society, the Working Group chose to list the main affected groups, namely women, black people, the LGBTQIA+ population and migrants, as well as people with disabilities and members of religious groups. 

The document also presents a set of strategies and recommendations for tackling hate speech and extremism. The issues were organized into the following topics: education and culture in human rights; schools and universities that promote peace and democratic coexistence; safe internet, media education and grassroots and community communication; protection of victims of hate speech; data and research to support public policies and actions; and good practices for journalists and communicators for tackling hate speech. 

One of the main proposals contained in the document, according to Raissa Belintani, coordinator of the Strengthening Democratic Space program at Conectas, is the creation of a “Permanent Forum to Tackle Hate Speech and Extremism”, which will serve, in an inter-sectoral and inter-ministerial manner, as a mechanism for monitoring and implementing policies to combat hate speech. 

“It is important for this body, during the exercise of its duties, to consider the intersectionality of the systems of oppression observed in Brazil,” she said. “The idea is also welcome for this Forum to review the National Human Rights Plan, which is now awaiting its fourth version. This proposal is important considering the dismantling of human rights policies in recent years and the necessary updates for new issues arising out of current circumstances.”

Also important, according to Belintani, is the request for ratification of the Inter-American Convention Against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance, as well as the Inter-American Convention on Protecting Human Rights of Older Persons. Within the scope of Mercosur and in particular the Mercosur’s Institute of Public Policies and Human Rights, the request was also opportune for the Brazilian government to join the Working Group on hate speech with a regional perspective.

As António Guterres pointed out, it is important to “prevent and end this toxic and destructive phenomenon, while promoting inclusive, just and peaceful communities and societies that protect the rights and dignity of all”.

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