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The Student Newspaper of Hopkins School

    • Rioters storm the National Congress of Brazil

    • Rioters storm the Capitol on January 6, 2021

Insurrection and the Internet: Social Media’s Danger to Democracy

Chloe Wang '26
For many international viewers, the recent Brazilian riots came as a shock. For those living in Brazil, however, this violence was not surprising.
On January 8, supporters of the former president Jair Bolsonaro attacked Congress, the Supreme Court, and Planalto Palace, the office of the president, in Brasília. Their reason? The rioters refused to accept Bolsonaro’s election defeat to the leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, referred to as Lula. 

Immediately after I read about the Brazil riots, the similarities between the event and that of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol just two years ago were obvious. On the surface level, both incidents involved a refusal to accept election results, and an attack on the nation’s headquarters. I realized they shared a similar catalyst – social media. The lack of monitoring violent content of foreign figures and people in positions of power encouraged the severe damage rioters inflicted. Inaccuracy on social media directly correlates with voters making uninformed decisions, compromising elections and threatening the electoral process. 

Bolsonaro was extremely active on social platforms like Twitter, where he made claims of election fraud for well over a year before ballots were collected. Experts have stated that the lack of individual identification numbers in internal logs, which Bolsonaro cited as the reason for why the election results were falsified, has no effect on the validation of the results. This information was ignored by Bolsonaro. His claims fueled misinformation online, and half of the most widely circulated images during the Brazilian election were revealed to be false or misleading. Moreover, the riot was first organized online using popular encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram, before moving to more public platforms.

Similarly, the January 6 attack was planned and fueled by social media. Trump’s initial claims about the stolen election were heavily prominent on Twitter, with tweets like “Looks like [Democrats] are setting up a big ‘voter dump’ against Republican candidates. Waiting to see how many votes they need?” That one tweet alone received over fifty thousand retweets and about two hundred forty thousand likes. Unmonitored extremist groups like QAnon, the Proud Boys, and neo-Nazis were active on many other social media platforms. Trump’s online rhetoric about the stolen election excited those pro-Trump groups, spreading quickly due to social media algorithms.

While these two events are very similar in nature, there is one large difference that lends a degree of credence to Bolsonaro’s claims of innocence. Bolsonaro was in Florida at the time of the Brazil riots, whereas Trump held a “Save America” rally near the White House minutes before the Capitol attack occurred. Since Bolsonaro was not in Brazil during the protest, he could make the claim that he was not involved. However, regardless of their whereabouts at the time of the attacks, both Trump and Bolsonaro’s social media posts were widely distributed online, creating a massive impact. Bolsonaro’s influence was still felt, even though he was not physically located in Brazil near the time of the riots. He was therefore responsible for the damage the attacks caused, just as Trump was responsible for January 6. Social media ensured Bolsonaro and Trump both instigated riots that paralleled each other. 

The events surrounding the riots in Brazil were intended to emulate that of January 6, especially with Bolsonaro’s approval of Trump. They were a statement of defiance to President Lula – but also a symbol of transnational conservative unity.

Other countries may follow America’s example, like Brazil did, and use social media to spread political hate and cause harm to democratic institutions. Refusing to hold media corporations accountable for their actions and allowing them to continue to put moderation last will allow extremists to continue to deal damaging blows to democracy across the world. 

For a nation built upon justice for all, that is not something we can allow. 
Editor in Chief 
Asher Joseph

Managing Editor 
Margaret Russell

Claire Billings
Jo Reymond
Rose Porosoff
Eric Roberts
Abby Rakotomavo
Elona Spiewak
Veena Scholand
Miriam Levin
Liliana Dumas
Saisha Ghai
Olivia Yu
Anya Mahajan
Rain Zeng
Winter Szarabajka
Aerin O'Brien

Karun Srihari
Samantha Bernstein
Hana Beauregard
Micah Betts
Elaina Paktuka
Edel Lee
Anjali van Bladel
Nate Gerber
Rebecca Li

Hailey Willey
Web Editors
Amelia Hudonogov-Foster
Anvi Pathak
Chloe Wang

Faculty Advisers
Stephen May
Elizabeth Gleason
Shanti Madison
The Razor's Edge reflects the opinion of 4/5 of the editorial board and will not be signed. The Razor welcomes letters to the editor but reserves the right to decide which letters to publish, and to edit letters for space reasons. Unsigned letters will not be published, but names may be withheld on request. Letters are subject to the same libel laws as articles. The views expressed in letters are not necessarily those of the editorial board.
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