Fighting Fake News: A closer look at Sleeping Giants Brazil
This article is a descriptive exploratory research based on data collected on Sleeping Giants Brazil’s Twitter account, @slpng_giants_pt. It aims to briefly describe the conditions that stimulated the organization of Sleeping Giants in Brazil and whether there are impacts of the group’s actions so far.
Social Media, Fake News and Politics
The recent elections around the world made evident the power of social media on the political scene. Winner (1980) mentioned that “certain technologies have political properties and that technology is shaped by social and economic forces”, social media started to configure as one of those technologies mentioned by the author, it is a powerful tool to spread the word of political parties and politicians. The rise of politicians who rely on social networks as the main form of disseminating their ideas has attracted enthusiasts from all political spectrum. Among social media, Twitter stood out and became one of the main virtual platforms for political content (Tumasjan et al., 2010; Parmelee and Bichard, 2011). Through the microblog format, politicians can communicate directly with their audience and receive immediate feedback, both from their supporters and from their critics.
In many countries, recent election campaigns have flooded social media platforms with fake news. The large number of users in the platforms and the simplicity in sharing content made fake news spread quickly. In addition, campaigns against traditional media (television, newspaper, radio, etc.) have increased the visibility and consumption of content distributed on social networks. The spread of fake news has intensified to the point that many narratives consider fake news to be a threat to democracy.
These discourses argue that the rise of digital and social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, has allowed for a seemingly end less flood of misinformation and deception to appear. The traditional gate-keepers of truth, such as editors, journalists and public intellectuals, have lost their monopoly on public issues, and in this process, so-called malicious actors and misinformed citizens have started to spread their own lies, deception, hate, propaganda and fake information on a previously unseen scale.Farkas and Schou (2019)
Sleeping Giants Brazil
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, since his presidential campaign, has publicly attacked some of the largest media companies in the country and has repeatedly emphasized that his audience must consume information from alternative sources. On November 12, 2018, he wrote a post on Twitter suggesting some channels on YouTube as excellent source of information .
From the Youtube channels suggested by Bolsonaro, I would like to take a special look at Olavo de Carvalho. As he describes himself on his account on Twitter, he is a public figure, writer and philosopher. He is one of the main promoters of Brazilian conservative thinking in today’s social networks. On Twitter he disseminates ideas such as disarmament is genocide, ideas of conspiracy about the connection of the global media with China in the creation of Covid-19, the growth of communism, attacks on the judiciary, anti-vaccine movement, among others. Posts seeking the demonetization of Olavo de Carvalho’s YouTube channel are the most recurring ones on Sleeping Giants Brazil’s Twitter.
In a post from August 24, 2020, for instance, Sleeping Giants shows a short video of Olavo de Carvalho saying that journalists do not deserve respect and should be kicked like a dog. The post goes on to say that it is the type of content that Olavo teaches in his classes and that the company that monetizes his channel is generating profits from it. Through this post Sleeping Giants denounces hate speech and asks the company to remove the ads from Olavo’s YouTube channel, thus demonetizing his channel .
This is an example of how Sleeping Giants work. This anonymous social media activism group, that emerged in 2016, aims to combat fake news and hate speech by persuading companies to cancel their ads on pages and channels that propagate this type of content. The group operates in several countries mainly on Twitter, but also using other platforms (Braun et. al., 2019). In Brazil, the account @slpng_giants_pt on Twitter has been active since May 18th 2020 and has more than 400 thousand followers.
The dynamic is simple. First, members of the group or their followers identify companies that advertise on channels or pages that disseminate fake news / hate speech. Then, these companies are tagged in a post on twitter or receive a direct message through the company’s website asking to block advertising. If the block is confirmed, a new post with thanks is published. If the block is not confirmed, new posts are made counting the days since the first block request.
Following the perspective of Manovich (1999), who states that media objects can exist in several different versions, the material collected to carry out this research were the tweets from the @slpng_giants_pt account, from June 20th to September 20th, 2020, which were the second to the fourth month of the group’s activity in Brazil. The three-month content was inserted into an Excel spreadsheet that contained:
- the name of all companies contacted published on twitter,
- whether the company responded,
- the date that the contact was made and
- whether the contact was made by Sleeping Giants Brazil or by followers.
Despite the brief period analyzed and the recent formation of the group, the Sleeping Giants movement in Brazil was able to provide practical effects through concrete actions against fake news and hate speech.
This article is an exploratory analysis limited by time and resources. It is suggested to deepen the issues related to the engagement of followers, the durability of the companies’ commitment with not sponsoring fake news and hate speech, comparing actions of Sleeping Giants in different countries and legal consequences (since there was an attempt to investigate the group and breach of anonymity).
Bolsonaro, Jair (jairbolsonaro). “Seguem algumas opções de excelente canais de informação no youtube!” 12 November 2018, 3:32 a.m. Tweet.
Braun, J. A., Coakley, J. D., & West, E. (2019). Activism, advertising, and far-right media: The case of sleeping giants. Media and Communication, 7(4), 68–79, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17645/mac.v7i4.2280
Johan Farkas & Jannick Schou (2018) Fake News as a Floating Signifier: Hegemony, Antagonism and the Politics of Falsehood, Javnost – The Public, 25:3, 298-314, DOI: 10.1080/13183222.2018.1463047
John H. Parmelee and Shannon L. Bichard. Politics and the Twitter Revolution: How Tweets Influence the Relationship Between Political Leaders and the Public. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2012, 247 pp., ISBN No. 978-0-7391-6500-3.
Manovich, Lev. “New Media— A User’s Guide.” Author’s website, 1999. http://manovich .net/content/04-projects/026-new-media-a-user-s-guide/23_article_1999.pdf.
Sleeping Giants. Profile [Twitter page]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/slpng_giants_pt
Sleep Giants Brasil (slpng_giants_pt). “Jornalista não merece respeito nenhum, tem que ser tratado a ponta pé como um cachorro” Isso é o que Olavo ensina em suas aulas que ele vende através do @pagseguro e que gera lucro a @UOL. #BloqueiaPagSeguro”. 24 August, 12:14 a.m. Tweet.
Tumasjan, A.; Sprenger, T.; Sandner, P. G.; and Welpe, I. M. 2010. Predicting elections with twitter: What 140 characters reveal about political sentiment. In Proc. of 4th ICWSM, 178–185. AAAI Press.
Winner, Langdon. 1980. Do Artifacts Have Politics? Daedalus 109(1): 121-136.