On January 8, thousands of supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro travelled to Brasilia to participate in anti-democratic demonstrations that resulted in mass riots and the invasion of Congress, the Supreme Court and the Presidential Palace. The demonstrators—which included several groups such as Bolsonaristas, Christian fundamentalists and conspiracists—raided Brazil’s institutions with the goal of disrupting government operations.
The incident drew some parallels to the January 6 insurrection that occurred two years ago in Washington, D.C. Among the similarities is how individuals used social media to gain momentum for the riots. Early reports show that planning for the demonstrations in Brazil began publicly across social media platforms. On one of these platforms alone, investigators monitored 56 groups and 171 messages related to the event. Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes also issued an order calling on some of these social media sites to block a total of 17 accounts the court says are linked to the attacks.
How Businesses Have Responded
When businesses face circumstances like these, they can decide to engage with political and social issues in a way that is intentional and relevant to their stakeholders and their values.
In response to the demonstrations, local and global companies released statements of condemnation. In Brazil, organizations like AmCham Brasil, the largest American Chamber of Commerce outside of the United States, acknowledged the gravity of the event and expressed support for Brazil’s democracy.
Other businesses went a step further and implemented changes, with social platforms being among the first. As the demonstrations were organized on these sites, the companies recognized the role their platforms played in the attacks in Brasilia and assumed responsibility.
Some of the firms committed to removing content related to the ransacking of Brazilian government buildings by protesters. The spokesperson for one of these said the platform shut down more than 2,500 channels and removed over 10,000 videos related to the Brazil election. Another spokesperson, announcing similar measures, said the situation in Brazil was designated a “violating event, which means we will remove content that supports or praises these actions.” Other companies in the same sector confirmed they were working with Brazil’s government and fact-checking groups to prevent the spread of content inciting violence in the region. These actions on behalf of businesses were welcomed by many in the public as a form of support to their democratic system.
Lessons for Businesses and the Wider Region
The response of social media companies to the events in Brazil aligned with the insights of APCO’s recent report on corporate advocacy. The research highlights how a majority of people agree that companies have a role to play in addressing major challenges facing society, even more so if that event relates to their business and is a place where they can make meaningful impact. While the study is specific to the United States, the general implications can be applied to all businesses as they approach the question of whether and how to respond to political and social events. In the case of social media firms in Brazil, the connection across the preparation, the use of social media and the outcome of the demonstrations created an opportunity for these firms to engage with the political issue at hand.
When shifting from Brazil to the region at large, Latin America is historically prone to protests—from Indigenous and women’s rights to far-right populist movements. In recent years, these protests and movements have escalated, both on the democratic and anti-democratic routes. In their growth, they have opened a space for businesses to analyze ongoing political and social issues impacting their environment, as well as a pathway to prioritize and reinforce their business values. As companies are approaching these topics, they should take the following steps into consideration:
- Choose Wisely: decide to speak out or act on issues related to the business where the company can make an impact
- Company First: prioritize employees and internal policies and standards before turning to external changes
- Minimize Risk: understand who the stakeholders are and how they will react to the company’s internal and external response to events
- How Matters: once the decision is made to act, be sure to act with intention and commitment