Anonymous Twitter accounts in Brazil are pressuring advertisers to drop conservative media campaigns

Anonymous Twitter accounts in Brazil are pressuring advertisers to drop conservative media campaigns
Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro.Reuters
  • Sleeping Giants is a Twitter account that has participated in news-making actions that have inspired many advertisers to pull funding from conservative media outlets, such as Fox News and Breitbart.
  • In 2020, a copycat account was made in Brazil, finding fast success in getting ads pulled from numerous right-wing sites.
  • In Brazil's regional media economy, numerous off-shoot accounts have sprung up to pressure local advertisers.

In 2016, Matt Rivitz created Sleeping Giants, a Twitter profile dedicated to reporting big brand advertisements on conservative websites. With a few clicks, Rivitz helped catalyze an international political movement.

After finding huge success in pushing for the withdrawal of millions in funds from right-wing websites and news organizations in the US, such as Breitbart and Fox News, his idea ended up spreading across the world and reached Brazil where, in less than a month, the profile Sleeping Giants Brasil has quickly managed to convince brands to withdraw ads from the Jornal da Cidade Online, considered one of far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's largest mouthpieces and propagators of misinformation. It's also the target of a Congressional investigation.

Through Google's ad platform, websites like Jornal da Cidade Online earn money based on views and clicks on ads displayed from advertisers who buy advertising spaces with target audience data.

Sleeping Giants Brasil was created on May 18 and in just a few days it managed to dry up the ads-revenue of its first target — more than 130 brands have committed to remove ads from Jornal da Cidade Online, demonetizing the publication of about $70,000.

On June 5 Sleeping Giants Brasil set its sights on a second target, right-wing site Conexão Política. In less than 24 hours it removed its advertising tool.


The reaction was immediate in Bolsonaro's camp, with one of the sons of the Brazilian president revolting on Twitter and Bolsonaro's followers accusing the companies that removed ads of "censorship." Carlos Bolsonaro, a city councilman in Rio de Janeiro and son of the president, was appointed by the Federal Police as the leader of the so-called "Office of Hate," a term coined by government leader Joice Hasselmann to describe a group of advisors to the president who allegedly spread misinformation in support of the government as part of their job.

After being alerted by Sleeping Giants, Banco do Brasil (Brazil's largest state-owned bank) removed its advertisements from Jornal da Cidade Online. The reaction of the government and the "Office of Hate" was swift. Carlos Bolsonaro and the government's communications secretary, Fabio Wajngarten, complained about the decision and the bank's marketing department removed the advertising restriction on the website.

A conservative version of Sleeping Giants Brasil has been created in response to the movement

In response to Sleeping Giants Brasil, the conservative "Gigantes Não Dormem" (Giants Don't Sleep) was created, though it only has a fraction of the followers (about 28,000 followers compared to more than 360,000). Its target is the left-wing website Brasil 247 — accused of receiving money from lobbyist Milton Pascowitch at the request of then Workers' Party treasurer João Vaccari Neto. The payment was discovered during investigations of the Car Wash Operation, in 2015.

The success of the far-right venture, however, is so far doubtful.

According to the founder of Sleeping Giants Brasil, who remains anonymous for fear of political retribution, the idea of creating the profile came from reading an article in the Spanish newspaper El País about the movement created by Rivitz, noting that it's not restricted to far-right sites.


Regional off-shoot accounts are targeting different ad markets

Sleeping Giants Rio Grande do Sul told Insider that "the movement has no political party and no ideological tendency. It has a very simple objective: to fight fake news and hate speech that goes against democracy and science, with the intention of providing a service to companies that often do not know that they advertise on these sites."

They added that "there are people [within the movement] with different worldviews, but everyone respects the goal and knows how to separate [their own view with the work done]. We don't exclude left-wing websites from the analysis, but the daily use of lying from emerging ultra-right sites is remarkable. We don't perceive this same commitment in left-wing sites, for example, in how they deal with the issue of pandemic, quarantine, chloroquine, etc. We have truth, science and democracy among our principles. Any website that attacks [these principles] will have more weight in the choice."

Insider also talked to Sleeping Giants Curitiba's profile administrator. Curitiba is the capital of the southern state of Paraná. They said there were inspired "to look for ways to combat disinformation" and decided to "adapt to the Brazilian reality," in part by regionalizing their activity. "There are particularities in Brazil, for example the capillarity of regional initiatives, unprecedented until then."

"The purpose of regional accounts is simple," They said. "As programmatic advertising is geolocalized they serve to inform local advertisers. This work has proven to be the most complicated because they are generally not large companies, they are smaller companies without marketing departments that buy Google AdSense ads without knowing the tool itself. Many do not even seem to know how to do the filters there. It's more of an orientation job. We're developing tutorials to help."

The Sleeping Giants Rio Grande do Sul profile administrator also explained to Business Insider that they concluded "that it would be a good idea to create regional profiles, because Brazil is very large and the algorithms currently allow a well regionalized dissemination [of advertisements]. This way, many regional advertisers don't reach the [main] centers of the country, so they wouldn't be approached."


But, the profile administrator added, "these regional advertisers are many and they alone are enough to sustain a large network of hatred and lies," and this is why the first regional profile, the Sleeping Giants RS, was created, "which immediately got positive responses from several big local brands."

"There have been cases of ad agencies and giant companies that just didn't know who had bought the ads and how to block them," they added. "The campaign is to inform and charge for more enlightened advertising, we don't propose boycotts or coercion to companies. We have been particularly careful with small businesses."

The demonetization of their targets via Adsense has occurred faster than they expected and Rio Grande do Sul's creator said that "without the regional ones I imagine that the work of the national profile would take more time."

Their targets are chosen based on lists of the largest misinformation propagators given out by fact-checking agencies, such as A Pública. "We're in the midst of a very serious pandemic, [therefore] websites that spread many lies related to Covid-19 will have more weight in the choice. We work with one target at a time to increase the effectiveness of the action."

Sleeping Giants Brazil membership has grown exponentially, as has its success, which has caused serious problems for the Brazilian far-right.


"All we want is for society to stop being ruled by fake news propagators," said the administrator of Sleeping Giants Rio Grande do Sul.