Military personnel "verified" twitters have 5 million followers and spread disinformation

An exclusive survey shows that Armed Forces officers have a political role in social platforms

Brasil de Fato | Brasília (Brasil) |
The generals Mourão, Augusto Heleno and Villas Boas have records of followers among Military officers - Divulgação

In recent years, Twitter "verified" the accounts of at least 15 Brazilian servicemen. The platform granted the "blue badge" – which reaffirms the account authenticity – to generals, lieutenants, colonels, and brigadiers, both active-duty militaries and retired servicemen. 

According to the social platform in a statement sent to Brasil de Fato, the verification has the “purpose of providing Twitter users with the guarantee that those profiles are, indeed, who they say they are.” 

However, experts heard by the report highlight that the badge boosts the growth of profiles and amplifies the reach of the tweets. "Based on our daily monitoring, we conclude that the chance of a tweet going viral when it is posted by a verified account is higher. The badge gives credibility to what is posted by these accounts, even when they have few followers", says Gabriel André, a specialist in social media analysis." 

Among the profiles recognized as authentic by the platform, there is great diversity. Colonel Henrique, state deputy in Minas Gerais (Liberal Social Party), got the “blue badge” even though he had only 330 followers on Twitter. The most popular on the platform are Generals Hamilton Mourão (2 million), Augusto Heleno (1,2 million), and Eduardo Villas Boas (881,000). 

The Brasil de Fato survey shows that the sum of followers of servicemen profiles with the "blue badge" reaches 5 million. But this number does not correspond to unique users, as the same account can follow more than one verified account. 

The survey did not consider unverified officers' Twitter profiles and Armed Forces institutional accounts. The total of followers corresponds to more than a third of the 14,1 million Brazilian users registered on Twitter, according to a survey by the consulting firm Statisa in 2020. 

Read More: Editorial | Why we defend Jair Bolsonaro's impeachment

The report also found out that more than a third of the verified servicemen's Twitter accounts have spread disinformation, shared messages later deleted by the platform, or advocated for "early treatment" against covid-19. They are: Lieutenant Mosart Aragão, Air Force Commander Baptista Júnior, and Generals Miotto, Augusto Heleno, Peternelli, and Girão Monteiro. 

In response to Brasil de Fato, the Ministry of Defense stated that "the Navy, Army, and Air Force have manuals and booklets that properly regulate and guide the conduct and use of social media by military personnel". 

According to the Ministry, "the recommendations to the effective deal with the good practices of freedom of speech and public positioning in online platforms, respecting the existing regulatory precepts". 

However, the agency also stated that personal profiles and contents on social platforms are of personal responsibility and "do not necessarily represent institutional opinions." On posts with political content or those that spread disinformation, he said that “the personnel management and disciplinary issues of the military fall under the exclusive competence of the Force Commanders, within the scope of their actions".

Fake news

The variety of mis- and disinformation spread by active-duty and retired personnel with verified Twitter accounts is wide. Lieutenant Mosart Aragão, a special advisor to President Jair Bolsonaro, posted false claims about the Olympics. 

He even claimed that the song "Baile de Favela” soundtrack of gymnast Rebeca Andrade's performance at the Tokyo Olympics, was written by a right-wing Brazilian funk singer named MC Reaça, a supporter of the federal government. Actually, it is an MC João song. 

*Translation: An amazing performance with a song by the late MC Reaça, president supporter! 

A post by the Air Force commander, Baptista Júnior, was deleted by the platform. He shared a tweet by Sergio Camargo, president of the Palmares Foundation. Camargo retweet a post by the federal deputy Daniel Silveira, who is in prison for threats against ministers of the Supreme Court. At the time, Baptista was not yet in charge of the Air Force. 

*Translation: A hidden fact by the “I-am-a-victim” speech: black and brown people are murdered by other black and brown people much more than by white people.

**And today the pole position of bullshits has a new winner. The strategy of these "journalism" vultures is to call for chaos using their made up numbers, lies and infantile analysis. Bastards! 

***It should stop the whole country! 

General Girão Monteiro (also a federal deputy from Rio Grande do Norte), who has over sixteen thousand followers on Twitter, advocated for "early treatment" against covid-19 and released a manifesto defending doctor Nise Yamaguchi and the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat the disease. 

*Translation: My repudiation on the hypocrite role played today in the Senate Covid inquiry. A group of doctors comes to Nise Yamaguchi's defense and stated a Motion of repudiation to the inquiry 

General Geraldo Antônio Miotto, former commander of the Southern Military Commando, who died of covid-19 in January this year at 65, also had his post deleted by Twitter. He tweeted during the 2018 presidential campaign period when Jair Bolsonaro was elected. 

*Translation: Brazil above all else 

Villas Boas, the pioneer

General Villas Boas was the first serviceman to use Twitter as a tool for political action. On February 6, 2017, he had his debut on the platform. He posted an introductory message which had only 254 likes. 

*Translation: Welcome to my personal Twitter account. In #myfirsttweet I want to thank all the current and coming followers. Jungle. Brazil. 

In April 2018, when the Supreme Federal Court was discussing the possibility of a habeas corpus that could avoid the arrest of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, from the Workers’ Party, who was convicted in Operation Car Wash to 12 years and one month for corruption and laundering) Villas Boas used social media to criticize the discussion in Court. He wrote a sequence of two tweets that currently add up to more than 30,000 shares.

*Translation: In Brazil’s current situation, we must ask the institutions and the people: who is compromised in building a good country and future generations, and who is concerned only with personal interests? 

Edited by: Rebeca Cavalcante