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Disinformation and online political violence against women in Brazil

The rise of the information society, predominantly sculpted by modern technologies, has blurred the lines between our online and offline lives. This intertwined existence, aptly termed "online" by the Italian philosopher Luciano Floridi situates us in an “Infosphere”, emphasizing our transformation into informational beings

According to We Are Social (2023), well more than half of the world's population uses mobile devices (68.0%), has internet access (64.4%), and is present on social media (59.4%). ). Remarkably, the worldwide daily average time spent on social media has nearly doubled since 2013. In Brazil, the daily average is 3h46m, surpassing the global mean of 2h31m. Intriguingly, women account for a majority (54.8%) of this digital demographic. [1] 

In the current context in which information has become a source of productivity and influence, the dissemination of disinformation has evolved into a potent tool, including through violence. In this state of increasing hyperconnectivity, disinformation – and the current lack of regulation needed to address this issue – has impacts on human rights violations. Consequently, safeguarding information integrity – in particular disinformation – especially against disinformation, has risen to prominence among the global community and national governments, including Brazil.

Gendered disinformation, a distinct form of online gender-based abuse, employs deceptive narratives rooted in gender biases. It predominantly targets women, seeking to dissuade them from active public engagement.”

Gendered disinformation, a distinct form of online gender-based abuse, employs deceptive narratives rooted in gender biases. It predominantly targets women, seeking to dissuade them from active public engagement. This insidious strategy typically combines has elements: falsehood, malicious intent, and coordination, and is often used to achieve political outcomes.

In Brazil, despite sustained efforts by women’s movements and regulatory measures in support of gender equality, progress for women in politics has been slow. As of 2022, women represent 36.7% of ministerial positions (a historic high) and 17.7% of parliamentary seats, a 2.9 percentage-point increase from the prior elections in 2018. These recent gains boosted Brazil’s Political Empowerment score to 26.3%, according to the 2023 WEF Global Gender Gap report. However, women's political representation still lags, partly due to political gender violence. This includes disinformation campaigns laden with falsehoods, threats, and attempts to discredit female politicians, hindering their political ascendancy. 

A Brazilian study echoed this, with 58% of female mayors elected in 2020 reporting incidents of political violence.”

According to an IPU survey, 58% of European women parliamentarians have been victims of online attacks. [2] A Brazilian study echoed this, with 58% of female mayors elected in 2020 reporting incidents of political violence. This survey also highlighted that the majority (74%) were subjected to false information dissemination, while 66% faced online threats, slurs, and hate speech. 

Addressing disinformation necessitates regulatory measures to safeguard both human rights and democracy. Since 2015, the European Union and its member states have enhanced their defenses against disinformation, utilizing the experiences of different countries for reference. A recent notable effort is the 2022 Strengthened Code of Practice on Disinformation, a pioneering initiative that encourages industry stakeholders to formulate self-regulatory standards. In advancing efforts, governments of several European countries (France, Germany, Hungary, Serbia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom) adjusted their counter-disinformation strategies following two major trends: first, realizing that the distinction between domestic and foreign disinformation has become increasingly obsolete; second, alongside attempts to regulate online platforms, starting to think more about the democratic character of their counter-disinformation measures. 

In Brazil, although legislation combatting online gender-based violence has been enacted, a distinct disinformation-specific regulation remains absent. Many proposed bills borrow insights from the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA) regulatory blueprint, which among other objectives, seeks to curb harmful online content. [3] 

Beyond legislation, there are additional endeavors to counter online violence, like public policy initiatives. Europe, for example, has invested in fostering trust in governance through civic education, media literacy, and public interest journalism. Other strategies encompass awareness campaigns, capacity-building, data monitoring, and collaborations like the Action Coalition on Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality. [4] 


[1] From 2 hours and 31 minutes in 2023, compared to 1 hour and 37 minutes in mid-2013

[2] IPU and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Sexism, harassment and violence against women in parliaments in Europe (2018).

[3] Brazil is still in the pre-regulatory period, and a bill is still pending in the National Congress to regulate the issue of disinformation and other themes, in Bill 2.630/2020, called “PL das Fake News.

[4] United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) -   Accelerating efforts to tackle online and technology-facilitated violence against women and girls (2022). Accessed at https://www.unwomen.org/sites/default/files/2022-10/Accelerating-efforts-to-tackle-online-and-technology-facilitated-violence-against-women-and-girls-en_0.pdf 


Brazil Institute

The Brazil Institute—the only country-specific policy institution focused on Brazil in Washington—works to foster understanding of Brazil’s complex reality and to support more consequential relations between Brazilian and U.S. institutions in all sectors. The Brazil Institute plays this role by producing independent research and programs that bridge the gap between scholarship and policy, and by serving as a crossroads for leading policymakers, scholars and private sector representatives who are committed to addressing Brazil’s challenges and opportunities.  Read more

Latin America Program

The Wilson Center’s prestigious Latin America Program provides non-partisan expertise to a broad community of decision makers in the United States and Latin America on critical policy issues facing the Hemisphere. The Program provides insightful and actionable research for policymakers, private sector leaders, journalists, and public intellectuals in the United States and Latin America. To bridge the gap between scholarship and policy action, it fosters new inquiry, sponsors high-level public and private meetings among multiple stakeholders, and explores policy options to improve outcomes for citizens throughout the Americas. Drawing on the Wilson Center’s strength as the nation’s key non-partisan policy forum, the Program serves as a trusted source of analysis and a vital point of contact between the worlds of scholarship and action.  Read more