Twitter account probed by Brazil’s Supreme Court amplified pro-Bolsonaro sites linked to PR company
Account was flagged in investigation regarding
Account was flagged in investigation regarding the defamation of Supreme Court ministers
An anonymous pro-Bolsonaro Twitter account that has been flagged by the Brazilian Supreme Court for spreading disinformation repeatedly amplified a pro-Bolsonaro website that poses as independent but is registered to an advertising company.
In May 2020, the Supreme Court demanded information about the owner of the account, @Patrlotas (“Patriots” in Portuguese, but with an l replacing the i) from Twitter, amid its ongoing probe into “fake news,” defamation, and threats against the Court and its ministers. Since the Supreme Court case is sealed, the identification of the account owner remains unknown to the public. The behavior of the account, however, might be a lead to identifying the owner; commonly, malicious actors amplify websites that are connected to them, and this strategy has been observed in other information operations in Brazil.
The Patrlotas account, which has some 120,000 followers, disproportionally posted links from Gazeta Brasil, an anonymous pro-Bolsonaro website. Patrlotas has also shared links to Bolsoapp, a pro-Bolsonaro content aggregator which shares the same Google Adsense ID — a unique tracker for Adsense accounts — with Gazeta Brasil. Both websites were registered to individuals who own an advertising company and have registered several other domains, some of which were pro-Bolsonaro sites. The individual listed as the registered owner of the domains, Carlos Manoel Marques Gaspar, is currently being criminally prosecuted for tax evasion related to a company he owned in the past.
After the DFRLab reached out to the @Patrlotas account and Gazeta Brasil for comment, both said they know each other but are not professionally related. The company representative also claimed that the company’s public relations activities do not interfere with the content published by the website.
Since President Jair Bolsonaro came to power in January 2019, tensions between the country’s executive powers, on one side, and the judiciary and legislative powers, on the other, have escalated. Since March 2020, protesters have demanded the dissolution of the Supreme Court and Congress. Jair Bolsonaro himself attended some of these events, fueling tensions.
In May 2020, under the scope of the Supreme Court investigation into disinformation — the same one that mentioned the @Patrlotas account — the police raided addresses of several pro-Bolsonaro figures. In August, some of the accounts identified in the investigation were removed from Twitter and Facebook, per a Supreme Court order. One month earlier, in July, Facebook removed a group of assets connected to employees of Bolsonaro and his sons for coordinated inauthentic behavior.
Amplifying Bolsonaro, disparaging opponents
The @Patrlotas account amplifies positive information related to the government and criticizes those that are perceived as acting against Bolsonaro, including former allies, members of Congress, and Supreme Court judges.
On August 21, 2020, for instance, the account posted a message saying that former Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, the Supreme Court, the media, the Globo broadcasting conglomerate, mayors, and governors were the ones primarily responsible for COVID-19 deaths in Brazil. The account used the hashtag #MandettaGenocida (Mandetta genocide [perpetrator]), in reference to the minister’s decision to forego recommending the use of hydroxychloroquine for preventing and treating COVID-19, and instead supporting social distancing measures. President Bolsonaro has claimed the drug is effective for treating COVID-19, despite the lack of scientific evidence to support this claim. The @Patrlotas tweet using #MandettaGenocida was retweeted 7,900 times.
The @Patrlotas account was suspended by Twitter in May 2020 but went back online in August. In the meantime, the owner used a replacement account: @Patrl0tas, this time replacing the letter o with a zero . This alternative account remains online, and the owner himself has stated it will continue being used as a spare account in case the original gets suspended again. Combined, both accounts have around 170,000 followers on Twitter.
Both accounts promote the website Gazeta Brasil, not only by repeatedly sharing links to the website, but also by telling people to follow Gazeta, which the accounts describe as a “right-wing outlet.”
The account posted links to Gazeta in 2019, but the activity increased in 2020. An analysis conducted using the website TruthNest on September 28, 2020 showed that the account included links to Gazeta Brasil in 43 percent of its most recent 1,438 posts.
Amplifying a hyper-partisan website
Gazeta Brasil is one of the many hyper-partisan right-wing websites that gained momentum in Brazil as Bolsonaro rose to office. The website serves as to amplify Bolsonaro’s priorities, publishing articles that favor him and his narratives. In May, fact-checking website Aos Fatos included Gazeta Brasil in a list of websites that profited from the pandemic by monetizing its website with Google AdSense and publishing false and misleading information about COVID-19.
More recently, on September 18, 2020, one of Gazeta’s posts on Facebook was labeled by the platform as missing context after fact-checking organizations flagged it as misleading. The post stated that the federal government had given 12 million reais (approximately $2.2 million) to treat an ill child, but omitted that the money was released after a court order. The post was shared more than 6,000 times on Facebook.
The website’s traffic has been increasing since the beginning of 2020, according to data from SimilarWeb, and the majority of its traffic comes from social networks, particularly Twitter. This might be an indication that the Patrlotas accounts are succeeding in driving traffic to the website — although Gazeta has some prominent followers in Brazil, such as President Jair Bolsonaro and his son, Rio de Janeiro council member Carlos Bolsonaro, none of them posts links to the website as often as the @Patrlotas account.
Gazeta Brasil’s registration information reveals that the website was registered by an advertising company called AZComm Comunicações e Eventos (AZComm Communications and Events). The person who appears responsible for the website, Carlos Marques, is currently being sued for tax evasion, and his company also registered what appeared to be a now-defunct adult website.
According to information from Brazil’s tax office, Marques’s full name is Carlos Manoel Marques Garpar. Data gathered with Brasil.io show that he is a partner in four other companies that work in different sectors: he is registered as a rural producer, owns a company that rents furniture, and has two other companies related to online content and internet services.
Gaspar is being prosecuted by the state for tax evasion related to Taquions Automação e Sistema Industriais Ltda, an automation and internet provider company. Publicly available documents show that the company was accused of not paying thousands of Brazilians reais in taxes prior to 2010. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Gaspar is not a journalist, but an industrial engineer. His name appears as the author of two articles on Gazeta’s website, which suggests that he has a role in running the outlet, rather than merely being the registered owner of the domain.
The co-owner of AZComm, Anne Cristiny Souza Viana, is a journalist who appears to have a more active role in the outlet than Gaspar. Her byline appears in 42 articles on Gazeta, and pictures available on her social media profiles show Viana in action as a reporter.
A third name that appears in Gazeta Brasil’s registration information, Viviane Capelli, also registered other domains, most of which are now offline, at various points with a single email that belongs to Carlos Gaspar. Some of the now-defunct domains were pro-Bolsonaro sites, such as bolsomatch.com.br, mitoapp.com.br, and soubrasil.com.br. Others appeared unrelated, such as one that seemed to be an adult website.
Only one domain is currently active: bolsoapp.com.br, an aggregator of social media posts from Bolsonaro, his family, government ministers, posts from Gazeta. It is marketed as an initiative to fight “media manipulation.” BolsoApp shares the same Google Analytics ID as Gazeta Brasil — another indicator that the websites are related. Additionally, BolsoApp was also amplified by the @Patrliotas account.
The DFRLab reached out to the @Patrlotas accounts and to Gazeta Brasil for comment. The account owner did not identify themselves. The person said the profile aims to “support the government and conservative causes, and that is why I amplify pro-government news from the website.”
Anne Viana, Gazeta’s owner, said the website belongs to her, and that Carlos Gaspar is an investor. She confirmed that she knows the owner of @Patrlotas account, but said he is not related to the website. According to Viana, the advertising agency owns a public relations company and Gazeta Brasil, but she claims that one does not influence the other. Viana added that BolsoApp was an initiative by a former member of the staff that has since been discontinued. Finally, she said Viviane Cappeli had more than 100 websites registered under her name, but they were not related to Gazeta Brasil.
Luiza Bandeira is a Research Associate, Latin America, with the Digital Forensic Research Lab.
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