But alternative platforms are resonating in Brazil, where supporters of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro have formed a budding following on freewheeling sites including Parler, Gab and Gettr, the new app launched by former longtime Trump aide Jason Miller.
Downloads of Parler and Gettr in Brazil are the second-highest of any country, just behind the U.S., according to data firm Sensor Tower, which uses rankings from Google and Apple’s app stores and reported downloads to estimate how often products have been installed.
And it’s not particularly close — estimated downloads for Parler in Brazil are twice as much as in the next most popular country, Great Britain, and nearly three times as much as the third-most popular country on Gettr, India. For Gettr, downloads in Brazil account for 1 in 5 of its total count, Sensor Tower estimated. (The company says it’s passed 3 million downloads.)
The estimated downloads — just over half a million for Parler and Gettr — still pale in comparison to the user bases of Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram and other major apps in Brazil. (Facebook has over 100 million monthly active users in the country.) Like in the U.S., the dedicated fan base is indicative of a large undercurrent of users on the right who are fed up with mainstream platforms — even if they won’t ditch them entirely.
Another major factor: Bolsonaro has accounts on both platforms, as do some of his sons, who are also Brazilian politicians.
“Their early joining of the platform and continued usage of it [has] really helped with that,” Miller, who left his post as Trump’s spokesman earlier this year to launch Gettr, told The Technology 202 during an interview Monday.
Former president Donald Trump and Bolsonaro have both railed against major social media companies over allegations of “censorship,” yielding their respective powers to try to target the firms. Sites like Gettr, meanwhile, have sought to brand themselves as bastions of free speech and pledged to take a more hands-off approach to policing content. That has created an opening for those platforms to make inroads in Latin America’s biggest market.
While it’s unclear exactly how many users on the platforms are pro- or anti-Bolsonaro, the top hashtags associated with his name were overwhelmingly positive on both sites, according to a review by The Technology 202. They included phrases that translate to “Bolsonaro is right,” “Bolsonaro reelection 2022,” and “Bolsonaro the pride of Brazil.”
Miller attributed the interest in alternative apps partly to frustrations with top tech companies, which are less “mature” than the angst from conservatives in the U.S., but developing. “There isn’t the direct anger at some of the companies, specifically. There is the overall Big Tech … concerns with data being taken away, people being censored and de-platformed,” he said.
Miller, who was detained by Brazilian authorities in September after visiting the country for a political conference and meeting with Bolsonaro, said he and the Brazilian president had discussed “differences between 2016 and 2020” when they spoke, as well as how “how Big Tech and Big Media are changing” ahead of Brazil’s next general election in 2022.
George Farmer, CEO of Parler, said Brazil has been their second biggest market since its earliest days. While Farmer said Brazil’s high rate of social media engagement has always made it an attractive market, that “growth was entirely organic.”
But Parler has since taken some steps to expand its digital footprint in the country, including making personal outreach to Bolsonaro — who Farmer said has an official presidential account, but not a personal one — and looking into hiring a Portuguese developer.
Sensor Tower couldn’t estimate how often another platform popular among the far-right, Gab, has been downloaded because it’s unavailable on the Google and Apple app stores. But an analysis by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab found that a “significant number of Brazilians joined” Gab after Twitter cracked down on far-right accounts in 2018, and that Brazilians had “become one of the largest groups to access” the site.
Asked how many of Gab’s users are in Brazil, how that user base ranks compared with others, and whether the company had comment, CEO Andrew Torba said in an email Monday, “‘Ya my comment is ‘God bless Jair Bolsonaro and Jesus Christ is King.’ No further comment.”
Miller said the rate of Gettr downloads in Brazil has risen even higher in recent weeks and the company plans to expand that user base even further. That includes launching a “big” global advertising campaign in the coming weeks that will target Brazil among other countries, including the U.S., Japan, Australia and “much of western Europe.” He said the goal is for Gettr, which currently has almost 3 million total users and nearly 400,000 daily average users, to hit 10 million total users by early 2022. (Farmer said Parler currently has over 15 million users and between 700,000 and a million monthly active users.)
Another way the company will try to lure users away from major platforms globally is by rolling out new features, including a competitor to the video-sharing functions on Instagram and TikTok, which Miller said will be aimed at attracting younger users. Gettr also plans to launch an e-commerce hub that will let users make transactions, including with cryptocurrency, intended to compete with apps like Apple Pay and Google Pay.
While Gettr has branded itself on its site as a “social media platform founded on the principles of free speech,” like many other platforms its terms of service says the company may still take action against material that is “offensive,” “objectionable,” “illegal,” “harassing” and “abusive.”
Miller said Gettr does use artificial intelligence to monitor some content, like other platforms, but the company also has “over 100” human moderators tracking the site. That includes some who speak Portuguese, Brazil’s national language, he said.
“In Brazil, we even have a country manager that's put in just because it's such a big market,” he said.
Our top tabs
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s hearing highlights Europe’s advanced stage in regulating Big Tech
Haugen received a warm reception at the European Parliament, where lawmakers said her testimony about Facebook’s inner workings could shape how they continue to regulate the industry, Cat Zakrzewski and Perry Stein report.
“Haugen told members of the European Parliament that they have the opportunity to shape the path of tech regulation around the globe, as countries from the United States to India debate new rules to regulate American tech giants,” Cat and Perry write.
Much of the hearing focused on Europe’s proposed Digital Services Act, which would force major technology companies to get independent audits of their risk management systems and make more data available to outside researchers. The proposal has “huge potential,” Haugen said. But she cautioned against creating loopholes in the rules.
Social media companies are under pressure after Gosar posts video showing killing of Ocasio-Cortez
The video posted by Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) on Instagram and Twitter depicts him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and swinging swords at President Biden, Felicia Sonmez reports. It has prompted calls for Gosar’s accounts to be suspended, though the video — and his accounts — remain on the platforms.
A Twitter spokesperson said late Monday that a “public interest notice” had been placed on Gosar’s tweet because it violates the company’s policy against hateful conduct. The video could run afoul of Instagram's rules barring “credible threats of violence, hate speech and the targeting of private individuals.” Spokespeople for Facebook, which owns Instagram, did not respond to a request for comment.
“Gosar has long drawn criticism for his extremist views, including his spreading of conspiracy theories about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob and the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville,” Felicia writes. But his Sunday night post “appeared to go further than his previous contentious remarks and social media posts, raising the specter of political violence in a manner similar to former president Donald Trump’s frequent allusions to armed revolution.” In the video, Gosar's face is photoshopped to appear in the opening credits of Japanese animated series “Attack on Titan” along with shots of Border Patrol officers, the Capitol and migrant caravans.
A Gosar staffer defended the video and dismissed claims that it glorifies violence. “Everyone needs to relax,” Gosar’s digital director, Jessica Lycos, said.
Blumenthal calls for Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube to deliver on commitments to hand over internal research
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) is trying to collect on commitments that company executives made at an October hearing on child safety. Similar research on Instagram’s effects on teen girls was leaked by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, prompting months of scrutiny by regulators and lawmakers such as those the Senate Commerce Committee’s consumer protection subcommittee, which Blumenthal chairs.
In his letters to executives at Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube, Blumenthal pressed company executives to release internal research about how teenagers use their platforms within around two weeks.
Snapchat did not respond to a request for comment. TikTok spokesperson Jamie Favazza said the company is “reviewing the letter and look forward to a continued dialogue with the committee."
Rant and rave
Netflix faces more defamation lawsuits than any major news outlet, the Hollywood Reporter's Eriq Gardner writes. Gardner:
Media and advertising historian Cynthia B. Meyers:
Orange County Register senior editor Samantha Dunn:
Inside the industry
- Tim Wu, a special assistant to President Biden for technology and competition policy, speaks at the American Bar Association Antitrust Law Section’s Fall Forum today. Acting assistant attorney general for antitrust Richard Powers; Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and three FTC commissioners also plan to speak.
- Former undersecretary of defense Michèle Flournoy, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Shield AI co-founder Brandon Tseng discuss the U.S. military's digital transformation at a Washington Post Live event on Thursday at noon.
- The Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder launches its final set of recommendations for addressing misinformation and disinformation on Nov. 15 at 3 p.m.