YouTubers Are Running For Office In Brazil, And They’re Winning By Huge Numbers
A group of twentysomethings leveraged their huge YouTube audiences and actually won seats in Brazil’s federal and state elections. What happens next is anyone’s guess.
by Ryan Broderick
SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Kim Kataguiri is known in Brazil for a lot of things. He’s been called a fascist. He’s been called a fake news kingpin. Is he a YouTuber? He definitely uses YouTube. He’s definitely a troll. A troll with a consistent message, though, he points out. Maybe he’s Brazil’s equivalent of Milo Yiannopoulos. His organization, Movimento Brasil Livre (MBL) — the Free Brazil Movement — is like the Brazilian Breitbart. Or maybe it’s like the American tea party. Maybe it’s both. Is it a news network? Kataguiri says it isn’t. But it’s not a political party, either. He says MBL is just a bunch of young people who love free market economics and memes.
One thing is very clear: His YouTube channel, the memes, the fake news, and MBL’s army of supporters have helped Kataguiri, 22, become the youngest person ever elected to Congress in Brazil. He’s also trying to become Brazil’s equivalent of speaker of the House.
Kim Kataguiri (center), leader of the Free Brazil Movement (MBL), takes part in the March for Freedom in demand of President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment in Brasilia, May 27, 2015. Evaristo Sa / AFP / Getty Images
As the world panicked over whether Brazil’s far-right presidential frontrunner, Jair Bolsonaro, is more of a Trump or a Duterte, MBL pushed forward 16 of its own candidates. Six of them won on the federal level. More at the state and local levels. MBL’s YouTube channel has grown from zero to 1 million subscribers this year. MBL was on the front page of YouTube every day in the month leading up to the election. They plan to have all of their elected members start their own YouTube channels. Forty percent of MBL’s revenue already comes from YouTube ads. MBL-affiliated YouTuber and newly elected state representative Arthur Mamãe Falei personally made $12,000 off his solo channel in October.
As Mamãe Falei simply puts it, “I guarantee YouTubers in Brazil are more influential than politicians.”
Sitting in an upstairs smoking room in Murdock Barbershop in São Paulo’s southern Moema neighborhood, Kataguiri is almost constantly shifting between two personas. With his skinny black suit and the way he strategically downplays MBL’s controversial past, the whole performance feels like a new persona he’s trying out: congressional Kim Kataguiri.
Kataguiri says he doesn’t agree with all of the outrageous things Bolsonaro says about black people and gay people and women. He claims that even Bolsonaro doesn’t believe his own inflammatory rhetoric.
But Kataguiri also disagrees with what he calls the “political correctness” of the left, like the outrage when Kataguiri was attacked for comparing feminists to instant ramen: “They’re ready in three minutes and you only have them in college.” And while he and his MBL colleagues celebrated the support of Infowars editor-at-large Paul Joseph Watson, Kataguiri says Infowars is too conspiratorial.
Kataguiri calls the hundreds of memes MBL members are transmitting daily on WhatsApp to their thousands of followers fun commentary — even if several of their Facebook pages were banned this summer for spreading misinformation. He makes the same claim as his far-right counterparts in the United States: Facebook discriminates against conservatives.
Kataguiri squirms in his seat as he talks. He has a nervous over-laugh that wouldn’t sound out of place on the other end of an Xbox headset. Sitting with him is MBL member and city councillor Fernando Holiday, also 22, in another slick, skinny suit, and Mamãe Falei, 32, in a T-shirt and jeans. It’s not hyperbolic to say these guys have quietly hacked their way into Brazil’s democratic process.
“We are the biggest political network on the internet,” Kataguiri says confidentially.
“I was elected by the internet,” he says.
Like Kataguiri, Holiday self-identifies as an economic liberal. And like Kataguiri — who is half-Japanese — Holiday is also an interesting figure for the Brazilian political right: He’s black and gay.
Holiday first gained notoriety by speaking out against affirmative action. He said he’s been criticized by black leaders in Brazil. “The old politicians didn’t take me seriously. I started to get respected as time went by, as I presented projects, debated issues,” he says.
And then there was the incident with Democratic Labor Party candidate Ciro Gomes. Gomes has a bit of the same energy around him right now as Bernie Sanders did in 2016. Many are saying he would have been a better choice than Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad to go up against Bolsonaro during the final presidential vote at the end of this month. Gomes’s name or face has been a fixture at leftist protests leading up to the election.
Earlier this year, Gomes called Holiday a “capitão do mato” during a radio interview. It’s a racist Brazilian expression that refers to slaves who would help capture escaped fellow slaves. MBL called Gomes racist in Facebook posts and memes. Gomes threatened to sue MBL for calling him racist. Holiday threatened to sue Gomes. A police investigation was opened in July.
A few months before the incident with Gomes, MBL came out in defense of journalist William Waack after audio leaked of Waack making racist remarks. “Who has never talked bullshit among friends?” MBL said in a video.
“Our opinion is the same as it is in the law. What really matters is if he had the intention to offend or not, and he had,” Kataguiri says. “It was not a joke. It was something he said in a show. He intended to offend [Holiday] because of the color of his skin. That’s difference between what’s inappropriate and what’s politically incorrect.”
These incidents aren’t uncommon for Holiday. He got in a Twitter fight just this week after he claimed the KKK was a left-wing organization. Far-right internet personalities, of course, can be equally diverse. But the diversity within MBL is clashing hard with a larger, more unruly conservative moment in Brazil right now, led by Bolsonaro, and it’s out of step with a global movement of white nationalism. MBL has to choose when and how to align with Bolsonaro, who has advocated for bringing back Brazil’s military dictatorship and has called Afro-Brazilian descendants of slaves lazy. Holiday says he disapproves of some of what Bolsonaro says.
“Most people who are not activists — in other words, who are just regular people — are fans of the movement and like my work and what we are doing,” he says.
Holiday has a lot of support. He’s just getting started on YouTube — part of Kataguiri’s plans for their YouTube propaganda network — and he already has 600,000 followers on Facebook.
“Other city councillors kind of fear me because most of them don’t understand the power of social networks,” he says.
There are 32 registered political parties in Brazil. Most of the political landscape is controlled by about five. The second round of the general election here this month will see the leftist Workers’ Party go up against Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party. Kataguiri, do Val, and Holiday are all part of the same political party, the Democrats. It’s a right-wing party dedicated to economic liberalism and Christian democracy, but they all say they’re MBL members first. Which is a powerful concept.
Kataguiri says they support Bolsonaro for practical reasons. They hate the Workers’ Party and the far-right wave that’s running through Brazil, but it ultimately helps them. Bolsonaro has been good for traffic.
“I think most of Bolsonaro’s supporters are just tired of the system and want an anti-establishment candidate,” Kataguiri says.
Kataguiri and his coordinators are banking on the populist energy of Bolsonaro being a passing fad. This, of course, is a big gamble. Bolsonaro supporters have already been connected to a string of assaults and hate crimes this past week. If this is a fad, it’s just getting started. Right now, MBL and do Val’s YouTube audiences are primarily ages 13–24.
Until that YouTube audience can get a little older and more indoctrinated — and become legally able to vote — Kataguiri has a plan.
“If Bolsonaro tries anything more radical, it will go through Congress,” he says. “And if it goes through Congress, we’ll stop it.”
(TLB) published this article from where it first appeared at BuzzFeedNews with our appreciation for making it available.
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