Examining the Effects of Hate Speech linked to Disinformation on the Black LGBTQI+ Community in Rio de Janeiro 

Under the DEPP-funded “Strengthening Brazil’s Electoral Landscape” Rapid Response project around Brazil’s October 2022 election, CEPPS/Internews conducted an innovative examination into hate speech linked to disinformation against the Black LGBTQIAP+ community in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

From September to December 2022, CEPPS/Internews and local partner Data_Labe conducted an Information Ecosystem Assessment (IEA) investigating how members of the Black LGBTQIAP+ population of Rio de Janeiro find, share, value and trust information in their own local ecosystem, with particular attention to whether hate speech increases and how it affects this community during electoral periods. The project also offered trainings by Black LGBTQIAP+ individuals for trusted sources within the community identified in the IEA. Training participants were Black LGBTQIAP+ communicators, journalists and influencers. Training sessions covered digital security, mental health and effective content creation strategies focusing on hate speech mitigation.  

“The fake news that is used today against Black and LGBTQIAP+ people works because of Brazil’s attitude toward Black and LGBTQI+ people, right? Trans people are marginalized; trans people are excluded, trans people are labeled as thieves, and prostitutes…and seen as having no family morals. They take the image Brazil has historically created of us and use it to produce fake news. So I think a fight against fake news is also a fight against transphobia and structural racism.”

One self-identified transgender Woman – Candidate for State Deputy for PSOL.

CEPPS/Internews developed a project focused on the intersectional Black LGBTQIAP+ community in Rio to co-design activities, taking into account the high rates of violence these communities face. Although Brazil has considered transphobia a crime since 2019, including hateful adversion towards member of the community, the country registered the highest number of trans people killed in the world for the 14th consecutive year in 2022. We also focused on Black LGBTQIAP+ community members living in favelas1 and peripheries to address the issue of hate speech and violence during the election period more comprehensively, given that these are areas with high populations of Black people who are commonly targeted both online and offline.  

The research team was comprised of members of Black LGBTQIAP+ communities, better enabling them to connect with interviewees’ experiences and avoid perpetuating racial and gender micro-aggressions in a social science research space while helping to mitigate these forms of violence. The resulting IEA not only identified the primary sources and channels that commonly generate hate speech linked to violence, but it also grounded the co-design of subsequent content creation by 16 fellows and four trusted media sources on the most used communication platforms in Rio de Janeiro, including podcasts, videos and graphics for Instagram, WhatsApp and YouTube.  

Presentation of the project during the 3I Festival by AJor. Photos by Any Duarte/3i Festival.

Notable among the IEA findings was the fact that 92% of IEA participants reported having experienced sexual and/or gender discrimination or violence, and 98.2% had already suffered racial discrimination or violence. The Internet emerged as the most frequent communication channel for respondents to access information, with many relying on social networks despite their situations of economic vulnerability. Politicians interviewed in the IEA also reported racism as a social divider in their agendas, especially when intersecting with discrimination around gender and sexuality. These high levels of targeted violence during electoral periods have influenced the political participation of Black LGBTQIAP+ community members, while hate speech has significantly impacted participants’ mental health. One self-identified transgender woman candidate for state deputy for PSOL commented on the intersecting structures of discrimination that fuel the spread of disinformation. “The fake news that is used today against Black and LGBTQIAP+ people works because of Brazil’s attitude toward Black and LGBTQIAP+ people,” she said.  

“When I started having this debate a lot, I started getting death threats on Twitter […]. The racial component certainly amplified the lesbophobia. The racial component was evident from the start.”

Lesbian Cisgender Woman – Candidate for Federal Deputy for the Workers’ Party

Following the October elections, CEPPS/Internews also published a special report focused on the three forms of hate speech that have grown the most in the country in the last year, identifying religious intolerance (specifically religious racism2), misogyny (gender-based violence) and xenophobia (directed towards the Northeast region.) In Brazil, xenophobia is defined as any discrimination against people of other ethnic origins, including Black and Indigenous people of the same country. The Northeast of Brazil is mostly populated by Black people. The special report also examined the most used hashtag surrounding January 8 riots in Brasilia, in which, for the most part, voters in favor of the former president invaded the buildings of the country’s three forces. Common hashtags included #BrasilianSpring, #traitors, #Brazilwasstolen, #LulaInJail, and #desmonetizejovepam. Key findings of our special report revealed that WhatsApp plays a crucial role in disseminating hate speech during election periods in Brazil.  

Presentation of the project during the 3I Festival by AJor. Photos by Any Duarte/3i Festival.

The project’s findings indicate an information ecosystem marked by high degrees of violence that affects the political participation and mental health of the community. Society often treats Black LGBTQIAP+ people as a monolithic unit, which prevents nuanced public policies that consider a range of experiences. This type of project is key to raising awareness of racist, gender-based violence and to ensuring free and safe participation in civic and political spaces by Black LGBTQIAP+ people in Rio de Janeiro.   

Check out a short video highlighting the IEA:

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