Under Jair Bolsonaro's presidency of Brazil, Felipe Neto became one of his harshest critics. In this interview, the YouTuber discusses his role, responsibility and reach as a political critic.
Felipe Neto is a 34-year-old Brazilian YouTuber who has over 90 million followers on various online platforms. Under Jair Bolsonaro, he became one of the former president's harshest critics and was consequently subjected to repression and misinformation campaigns.
With the election of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as president, Brazil is taking a different turn. However, the riots that took place there on January 8, 2023 show that the country remains deeply divided. In this interview, Felipe Neto reflects on his role as a political critic, the impact of disinformation and the media landscape in his country.
DW: You established yourself as a critical voice in your country during Jair Bolsonaro's presidency. How will you continue now that Inacio Lula da Silva has been elected?
Neto: I will continue to use my influence to fight fake news and misinformation, which can create threats to our democracy. At the same time, I will demand from the government the necessary measures for the fight for greater social equality, better regulation of digital media and socio-educational measures.
DW: The riots on January 8 bear the signature of Steve Bannon, a former White House adviser. How is this fact perceived in Brazil? And how has Jair Bolsonaro been regarded since those events?
Former White House adviser Steve Bannon has spread rumors about election fraud in Brazil, promoting the hashtag #BrazilianSpring
Neto: We all know Steve Bannon was close to Jair Bolsonaro and the people around him, which certainly motivated the behaviors that incited that small part of population to commit these terrorist acts. All of it, in my view, helped to bury the image of Jair Bolsonaro in public opinion even more, leaving only the most radical wing of population to remain faithfully beside him. However, this is not definitive. The public perception of Bolsonaro’s image varies all the time, mainly driven by fake news and by the spread of the fear of the myth of communism. Bolsonarism is not over.
DW: Disinformation poses a real danger to democracy and drives division in today's society. As a YouTuber who is followed by a large number of people, what power do you have and how can you directly influence public opinion?
Neto: The responsibility I carry is the same size as the audience that follows me, and I take it very seriously. During the election period, I created a series of videos on social networks denying the fake news spread by the far right. These videos had over 300 million views, and I feel I did what was necessary to get the truth to the public.
DW: Most of your videos are meant to be entertaining. How do you manage the balancing act of being both a critic and an entertainer, who is also taken seriously by subscribers?
Neto: This is one of the biggest challenges of my career. On YouTube, I’m a host of family entertainment content, with funny videos on a variety of topics. But on [other] social networks I focus on my political posts and opinions. I believe this way, I can separate one thing from the other, although many people still confuse the two.
DW: Brazil's media landscape is not known for being pluralistic, and many outlets often are close to the political sphere. Against this backdrop, how can media companies regain the trust they have lost?
Neto: I believe this problem is not exclusive to Brazil. It is part of the far-right practices intended to discredit the press and constantly attack the media. We can see this in Brazil, the US, Italy and in many other countries.
The mainstream media in Brazil is much more liberal and aligned to the right-wing, but Bolsonaro’s campaign created an illusion that it was communist and Lulist. This is not true.
This scenario is getting extremely complicated for the left-wing, which on the one hand has to defend the credibility of press and at the same time has to attack the kinds of editorial standards that enabled the 2016 coup, led toLula’s arrest, and empowered the Operation Car Wash scandal. These [publishers] have always aligned themselves with the right-wing liberalism — which only seeks to protect the interests of the richest. In this communication war, we still have a lot to discuss and learn.