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Brazilian YouTube star receives threats after criticizing Bolsonaro

. Aug 03, 2020
felipe neto brazil youtuber Felipe Neto. Photo: Still from YouTube

Felipe Neto, aged 32, rose to fame as the most prominent of Brazil’s first generation of YouTube stars, posting irreverent comedy videos directed toward a young audience, amassing over 39 million subscribers. After Jair Bolsonaro was elected president, his presence on social media became increasingly more politicized and he is now one of the most prominent critics of the current government. As such, he has also been targeted by a defamation campaign by Mr. Bolsonaro’s supporters, leading sectors of civil society to rush to his defense.

Thirty-seven Brazilian civil society organizations have published an open letter in his defense and against a “structured campaign” of defamation, hate, and threats from supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro.

</p> <p>The manifesto is signed by institutions such as the Brazilian Press Association, the National Student Union, and the press freedoms section of the Brazilian Bar Association.</p> <p>“In the last few days, we have observed the intensification of an organized and structured campaign containing proven false information. (&#8230;) The intention of this defamatory campaign goes far beyond the limits of criticism, the limits protected by the constitutional right to express oneself, by attributing to Felipe Neto actions that may even constitute the practice of crimes.”</p> <p>These attacks on Mr. Neto have not been restricted to the internet. On Thursday, a group of activists gathered outside his home in Rio de Janeiro, shouting threats through a sound system. One of the leaders of this act of harassment, Leandro Cavalieri published a <a href="https://politica.estadao.com.br/blogs/fausto-macedo/homem-que-ameacou-felipe-neto-participou-de-ataque-de-fogos-contra-o-stf/">Photoshopped image on social media</a> in which he is depicted threatening Mr. Neto with a machine gun.</p> <p>Beyond his 39 million subscribers on YouTube, Felipe Neto has another 12 million followers on Twitter, and 12 million on Instagram, making him arguably the most famous digital influencer in Brazil. While his YouTube page is updated daily with Minecraft gameplay videos, his Twitter and Instagram accounts are home to persistent and cutting condemnation of the Bolsonaro government and social critique.</p> <p>Previously, he was critical of the Workers&#8217; Party government before Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment in 2016, but since Mr. Bolsonaro took office, the president has become the primary target of his ire.</p> <p>In mid-July, he reached the peak of his newfound political fame when he recorded a video for The New York Times, calling Jair Bolsonaro <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/15/opinion/coronavirus-covid-brazil-bolsonaro.html">the worst world leader in the fight against the pandemic</a>. “When the clown needs to speak seriously, you know the circus is probably on fire,” he says, at the outset of the video.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Americans may think no one is handling the coronavirus worse than President Trump. But <a href="https://twitter.com/felipeneto?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@felipeneto</a> says President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil is much, much worse. <a href="https://t.co/eb2NctOXDz">https://t.co/eb2NctOXDz</a> <a href="https://t.co/XyCZxlxqgK">pic.twitter.com/XyCZxlxqgK</a></p>&mdash; New York Times Opinion (@nytopinion) <a href="https://twitter.com/nytopinion/status/1283342065607352322?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">July 15, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <p>In his view, his appearance on the Times pulled the trigger for the escalation of insults and attacks from pro-Bolsonaro activists.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Fake News and hate crimes</h2> <p>Leonardo Cavalieri, the man who took protestors to Felipe Neto’s door, was also among those who, in June, shot fireworks at the Supreme Court building in Brasilia. He remains at liberty, but one of his comrades, <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/05/07/bolsonaro-far-right-wants-turn-brazil-into-2013-ukraine/">Sara Winter</a>, is currently on house arrest. Ms. Winter and other Bolsonaro supporters are currently under investigation by the Supreme Court for an alleged online scheme to spread misinformation and hate speech against government opponents.&nbsp;</p> <p>Besides the involvement of Mr. Cavalieri, there is no clear link between the threats to Felipe Neto and these other schemes as of yet.</p> <p>Even before his election, Jair Bolsonaro and his close allies have been linked to the spreading of misinformation and harassment on social media. A parliamentary hearings committee in Congress targeted the so-called “Office of Hate” operating within the presidential palace, an alleged group consisting of political agents and advisors working under President Bolsonaro who orchestrate and rabble-rouse the president&#8217;s digital following, operating largely on Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp Messenger.</p> <p>Felipe Neto’s staff have been collecting the threats and presenting the evidence to the police. He and his family are currently under constant surveillance from a personal security team.

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José Roberto Castro

José Roberto covers politics and economics and is finishing a Master's Degree in Media and Globalization. Previously, he worked at Nexo Jornal and O Estado de S. Paulo.

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