Digital Democracy

Digitalization and the Public Sphere in Brazil

Regulation of Digital Platforms

A contribution to the analysis of the national debate in the context of a global challenge

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1. Executive Summary

This study investigated the public debate on Twitter about the regulation of digital platforms on social networks. There were 1.14 million mentions to the topic between February 1 and April 6, 2022. Our goal was to understand how this topic has been approached on social networks within the public debate in general and within the debate among congress representatives, based on Twitter posts analyzed qualitatively and quantitatively. The analyzes indicated that there is a difference in focus in each of the groups observed, that this debate still has a low level of repercussion compared to other topics investigated by FGV DAPP, and that there is a lack of clarity in both groups about what it means to regulate platforms or social networks. In Brazil, the discussion on the networks is more centered on topics such as censorship, diverging from the literature about this topic, which focuses more on the accountability of digital platforms.

Regulation of digital platforms. Digital public debate. Social networks.


  • We identified 1.14 million mentions to the debate about digital platform regulation on Twitter between February 1 and April 6, 2022;
  • The posts within the general debate and within the debate between congress representatives dealt with discussions around Bill No. 2630 of 2020 (the Brazilian Law for Freedom, Accountability and Transparency in the Internet), known as the Fake News Bill, and with the suspension of Telegram by the Supreme Court Minister Alexandre de Moraes;
  • In addition to these two major events, there was a lower volume of references to media regulation based on a statement made by President Jair Bolsonaro in a speech at the Federal Legislative Chamber;
  • A group formed by more than half of the profiles participating in the debate about platform regulation on Twitter mobilized 82% of the interactions in the period analyzed and attacked the decision made by the Supreme Court Minister Alexandre de Moraes to block Telegram in Brazil; another target of criticism in this group was the congressman Arthur Lira (PP-AL), who drove the agenda of the urgency vote for the Fake News Bill in the Chamber of Deputies.
  • The debate among congress representatives on Twitter had more posts related to the bill than to other topics, such as the Telegram suspension, with 65% of mentions made by representatives referring to Bill No. 2630;
  • The positions against the bill and the urgency of the vote came from parties aligned with the right wing, and the positions in favor of the bill – or open to discussion about the topic – came from parties closer to the center or left wing.
  • There is still a lack of clarity about what it means to regulate digital platforms or social networks. The confusion of concepts and usage of the terms happens both on the part of common Twitter users and of Brazilian congress representatives;
  • Lastly, the study showed that there is some difficulty in Brazil to establish a debate about digital platform regulation and advance in aspects that go beyond the discussion of censorship, diverging from the literature about this topic, which focuses more on regulation in terms of the accountability of digital platforms.

2. Presentation

Brazil has been moving towards more effective regulation of technology companies. The Marco Civil da Internet (BRASIL, 2014), a piece of legislation that protects the rights of citizens on the internet, is considered one of the most advanced of its kind in the world. The General Data Protection Law (Lei Geral de Proteção de Dados – LGPD, BRASIL, 2018) created rules for companies and governments for the collection and processing of personal sensitive data, such as racial or ethnic origin, religion, and political orientation, and has been considered another advance for Brazilian legislation regarding the protection of citizens’ rights to freedom of speech and privacy. In addition, the protection of personal data has been recognized as a fundamental right since February 2022, strengthening the rules introduced by the LGPD with constitutional backing.

Regarding specifically legislation aimed at digital platforms, the Congress is currently debating Bill No. 2630 of 2020, which deals with the Brazilian Law on Freedom, Responsibility and Transparency on the Internet, known as the Fake News Bill. This bill aims to establish transparency rules for social networks providers, search engines and instant messaging applications (such as WhatsApp) to protect fundamental rights and ensure freedom of speech without compromising other rights such as security. This is a regulatory effort that can bring Brazil closer to European countries, which have advanced in approving similar projects.

At the end of April 2022, the European Union approved the Digital Services Act (DSA), which sets out new rules to hold big techs accountable for the spread of illegal content and the risks that their services may pose to society and its citizens. Among the act’s measures, the highlight is that technology companies will have to be more transparent and provide information to regulatory authorities and independent researchers, especially with regard to content moderation and the recommendation algorithm, as opposed to the policy of autonomy and self-regulation of big techs.

Because of this, it will become mandatory for platforms to provide users with tools that facilitate the identification of illegal content, such as defense of terrorism, hate speech, child abuse, and commercial scams and fraud. The law regulates ad content aimed at minors, as well as ads based on sensitive personal data, such as religion, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. The new rules are expected to take effect in 2024.

In March 2022, another breakthrough in Europe was the Digital Markets Act (DMA) passed by the European Parliament, which established rules to promote innovation, growth and competitiveness in digital markets. In particular, the act aims to control the power of big tech companies through new rules for app stores, e-commerce, algorithmic governance, search engines, online ads, messaging services and other digital tools.

While the EU’s DSA is an effort to regulate the technology industry, in the United States, the interests of large corporations prevail. Discussions in the American Congress remain divided regarding competition, privacy and disinformation, among other issues involving technology companies.

This study investigates the public debate on the regulation of digital platforms on social networks. The goal is to understand the dynamics of this discussion in Brazil in light of the international debate on this subject. For this analysis, we found that there were 1.14 million mentions to the topic between February 1 Twitter and April 6, 2022.

The study is divided into six sections, the first being this introduction. The next section presents an overview of the regulatory debate on social platforms in Brazil based on a brief literature review on the subject. The third section describes the methodology used to collect and analyze Twitter data. The fourth and fifth sections offer an analysis of the general debate and the congressional debate on the subject and identify the main actors driving the peaks of discussion in the analyzed period. The last section presents final considerations in which some specificities of the Brazilian platform regulation debate are listed, based on the political context and recent discussions in the Brazilian Congress.

3. Results and discussion

1) The regulatory debate in Brazil

The debate on platform regulation is a growing topic in several countries around the world and involves issues of multiple natures. There have been concerns about technology companies since the late 1990s, with a focus on antitrust measures given the exponential global growth of big techs. With the rise and expansion of platforms owned by these companies, new concerns emerged regarding political issues (MARTINS; TATEOKI, 2019; RODRIGUES; BONONE; MIELLI, 2020; FRIAS, 2020), labor issues (OLIVEIRA; CARELLI; GRILLO, 2020; ANTUNES; FILGUEIRAS, 2020; ROSENFIELD; MOSSI, 2020; GROHMANN, 2020; KALIL, 2020), issues related to citizen’s rights regarding the protection of personal data and privacy (KERBER, 2022; TUFEKCI, 2015; BIETTI, 2020; RUTGERS, 2021), and issues related to the governance of the algorithms regulating the platforms (FILGUEIRAS; ALMEIDA, 2021; MATTIUZZO, 2019; EPSTEIN; MEDZINI, 2021). In Brazil, the focus of discussion is currently on how platforms can be held accountable for content posted by users inciting, for instance, violence and hate speech. This debate is driven by the emergence of the disinformation phenomenon and the progress of Bill No. 2630 of 2020. At the same time, the incipient debate on the regulation of artificial intelligence, which had its first public hearing in the Federal Senate on April 28, 2022, also tends to affect discussions on the regulation of digital platforms as a whole.
While the legislative process is slowly advancing, the self-ordering measures employed by the platforms have been an attempt to give an answer to the authorities and society regarding the overwhelming effects of disinformation practices, such as the spread of fake news and the strong influence of automated accounts in the public debate. These measures can set the tone for what a model that is exclusively self-regulated by platforms would look like.

The three main categories of regulatory models ‒ self-regulation, hetero-regulation and coregulation ‒ involve laws and norms established by different entities. Hetero-regulation or public regulation involves the public power, usually based on the legislative process; self-regulation involves the companies offering the service, which can establish norms defined by a class association recognized by the sector or unilaterally (self-ordering); coregulation or regulated self-regulation involve an interaction between both, depending on the weight given to one or the other in this combination of forces.

The self-regulation perspective is strongly influenced by principles such as those listed by John Perry Barlow in the so-called Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace (BARLOW, 1996). These principles defined the global internet model still in its infancy, as well as its commercial applications in the phase of massive implementation. Influenced by American liberal ideals, the declaration materializes the notion that regulation could be identified as a form of restriction on freedom of speech (LEONARDI, 2019). However, when the document was produced and disseminated, the decentralized or distributed operating logic of the internet was very different from the operating logic of current digital platforms, which impose a growing tendency to centralize services and traffic around large transnational economic conglomerates.

In parallel to the measures established unilaterally by the platforms, and constituting the main legislative proposal on the subject in progress in Brazil, Bill No. 2630 targets the phenomenon of disinformation. The scope of its proposal is the self-regulation model combined with the participation of a council responsible for defining guidelines on the role of companies in content moderation and platform governance. In the final proposal of the Federal Senate released in March 2022, the council would be a part of the attributions of the Internet Management Committee (Comitê Gestor da Internet –

Bill No. 2630 has been characterized as an initiative for “social regulation” of the internet. This type of regulation refers to an “intervention that does not have the immediate objective of regulating a market, but aspects of the behavior of subjects in a given legal domain” (FARINHO, 2020, p. 31). In turn, “economic regulation”, a traditional field of regulatory doctrines and practices, aims to
order economic activities through a combination of rules and the exercise of these rules by certain legal subjects. These legal subjects seek to ensure that said activity is carried out taking into account a set of objectives that result from a balance of interests present in the target domain, beyond those that would result from the simple functioning of the market (Ibid., p. 31.).

Although there is still no established model, different authors defend that regulatory solutions adopted in the future with a focus on digital platforms combine self-ordering or self-regulation with hetero-regulation (FARINHO, 2020; BELLI; ZINGALES, 2017). One of the concerns in the regulatory debate is that the Judiciary Branch stops functioning as a regulatory power (which already happens in practice), since there is no regulatory framework guiding the actions of platforms. Faced with gaps in the law, the Judiciary Branch has been called upon to decide based on concrete cases, usually developing “the starting legal framework”; that is, it approves “further administrative or private norms or the practice of administrative or private legal acts seeking to develop the legal regime” (FARINHO, 2020, p. 33).

To avoid this change in purpose of the Judiciary Branch, a consistent regulatory framework must be put into force, preferably with global articulation ‒ even though the current legislative proposals are fragmented in national efforts (such as in Brazil, Canada and Germany) and regional efforts (such as in the European Union). The way to do this is precisely what the current public debate has been trying to develop, improve, mature and enable.

The mention of media regulation is frequent in this discussion, focusing on the regularization of articles 220 to 224 of the Federal Constitution (BRASIL, 1988), which is the chapter on Social Communication. The main concern of the media regulation agenda is the high concentration of media vehicles in the hands of a few business groups, which distorts article 220, paragraph 5, according to which “social communication media cannot, directly or indirectly, be the object of a monopoly or oligopoly”. Despite this constitutional provision, Brazil maintains a scenario of very high media concentration, having been dubbed “the country of the thirty Berlusconis” by the NGO Repórteres Sem Fronteiras in 2013 (REPÓRTERES SEM FRONTEIRAS, 2013).

Another concern within the debate on media regulation is enabling the provisions of article 221, items 1 and 3, which establish the obligation of broadcasters to promote regional culture and content “according to percentages established by law”. However, recent law proposals and national debates on media regulation attempting to define these legal percentages have faced resistance and accusations of censorship (URUPÁ, 2021; MILENA, 2015; NEVES, 2013). In addition, the issue of complementarity between public, private and state broadcasting services, provided for in article 223 of the Federal Constitution, is also part of this broad debate on the infraconstitutional regulation of the media.

2) Methodology

This study explored data on social networks and analyzed the public debate happening in digital environments regarding the regulation of social network platforms and instant messaging services in Brazil and, to a lesser extent, media regulation. This analysis involves collecting and processing posts on Twitter that somehow approached the issue of regulation.

See complete methodology in PDF

3) General debate on Twitter

The proposal to regulate digital social media platforms in Brazil has certainly caught the attention of users on the platforms. Between February 1 and April 6, 2022, there were 1.14 million mentions to the topic on Twitter. The debate generated strong mobilization in two moments. The first one happened on March 18 and registered 127,500 tweets, reflecting the decision of the Supreme Court Minister Alexandre de Moraes to suspend the instant messaging application Telegram in the country. The second moment with the greatest engagement happened on April 6 and registered 201,100 posts, with reactions to the decision of the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Arthur Lira (PP-AL), to continue the vote on Bill No. 2630 in the plenary of the Legislative House.

Figure 1 – Evolution of the debate on Twitter about digital platform regulation
Analysis period: February 1 to April 6, 2022

Made with Flourish

. Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV DAPP

The actions of Moraes and Lira were attacked on the platform. Two major hashtags developed in the debate and were aimed at the legislative proposal: #Pl2630nao (“no to Bill No. 2630”), which appeared in 275,600 posts, and #votoupl2630perdeumeuvoto (“vote for Bill No. 2630 and lose my vote”), in 14,300 tweets. The hashtags regarding the minister’s decision were #stfvergonhanacional (“the Supreme Court is a national shame”) and #moraestirano (“Tyrant Moraes”), in 5,900 and 5,200 tweets, respectively.

Figure 2 – Map of interactions in the debate on Twitter about digital platform regulation
Analysis period: February 1 to April 6, 2022

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV DAPP

. Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV DAPP

Blue – 54.34% of profiles | 82.11% of interactions
Group mobilized by politicians, celebrities, bloggers and right-wing digital influencers, who had the greatest level of activity on the platform both in terms of the number of profiles and engagement. The group criticized Bill No. 2630, classifying it as censorship, and questioned the alleged urgency shown by the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Arthur Lira (PP-AL), to vote on the proposal. This community also attacked the decision of the Supreme Court Minister Alexandre de Moraes to block the private messaging application Telegram in Brazil, claiming it was unconstitutional, and criticized the argument that the so-called “Fake News Bill” would help combat disinformation, seeing it as a pretext to limit the manifestations of conservative profiles and supporters of the federal government on social networks.

Orange – 20.49% of profiles | 9.84% of interactions
Group developed around the profiles of digital activists, politicians, journalists and bloggers criticizing the federal government. This group saw the suspension of Telegram in Brazil by the Supreme Court as a correct decision, on the grounds that the application had failed to comply with judicial determinations in Brazil, and disseminated the information that the owner of the service had allegedly agreed with the decision. Posts in this group also questioned the indignation of members of the federal government support group, claiming they were exaggerated compared to their reaction to rising prices in the country. The community also expressed some satisfaction with the moderation measures taken by platforms such as Twitter and YouTube regarding conservative accounts and pages allegedly responsible for the dissemination of disinformation and hate speech on the networks.

Green – 7.20% of profiles | 3.21% of interactions
Group formed around alternative media channels, politicians and conservative entrepreneurs who were dissatisfied with the suspension of Telegram in Brazil and saw the Supreme Court’s decision as authoritarian, claiming it failed to consider other types of non-harmful or non-criminal uses of the application. Some profiles compared the decision made by Alexandre de Moraes with measures taken by rulers in countries such as Azerbaijan, China and Russia, cited as examples of undemocratic regimes. Some posts also joined campaigns to stop the advance of Bill No. 2630 in Congress.

Pink – 3.27% of profiles | 1.12% of interactions
Group composed of entertainment channels and fans of the South Korean music group Bangtan Boys who were concerned about the decision to suspend Telegram in Brazil. The group also criticized the intensification of account and page moderation measures taken by platforms such as YouTube and TikTok ‒ with the justification of fighting the spread of disinformation ‒, since the decision, as well as the measures, could have negative impacts on the dissemination and circulation of the material created by artists and content producers.

Lilac – 2.12% of profiles | 0.70% of interactions
Group mobilized by entertainment channels and profiles of common Twitter users who were dissatisfied with the suspension of Telegram in Brazil due to the impact the decision could have on the communities of fans of literary sagas, who relied on the application to circulate material and communicate. In addition, while some profiles defended the suspension of accounts and pages by platforms such as YouTube and Twitter on the grounds that they are private companies, others shared tricks to circumvent the moderation measures.

Yellow – 2.02% of profiles | 0.66% of interactions
With entertainment channels and common user profiles, this group shared and commented on specific episodes of account and content moderation measures across platforms, such as the case involving the controversial statements made by youtuber Monark about Nazism. The group also mentioned measures taken by users themselves to restrict interactions, such as the decision of the entrepreneur Allan Jesus to block comments on his profile. Some posts also called for platforms to take action against channels that are allegedly spreading disinformation.

4) Congressional debate on Twitter

To analyze the discussion on digital platform regulation carried out by congress representatives in their Twitter profiles, we collected all posts from federal deputies and senators between February 1 and April 6, 2022. Of the 65,145 publications made in the period, 86 were related to social network regulation or correlated topics, such as media regulation and internet regulation. The messages were posted or retweeted by 45 congress representatives – 44 federal deputies and one senator.

In a manual analysis of the publications, we found that the evolution of the congressional debate indicates the importance of Bill No. 2630. April 5 and 6, when the urgent vote for the bill was introduced in the schedule of the Chamber of Deputies (and rejected the following day), corresponded to 65% of the total volume of mentions in the period.

Figure 3 – Number of daily tweets about digital platform regulation
Analysis period: February 1 to April 6, 2022

Made with Flourish

. Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV DAPP

In these two days of debate, congress representatives affiliated with the parties Novo, PL, PP, PROS, PSC and Republicanos took a stand against the urgency of the vote and against the bill itself, using the hashtag #PL2630não (“no to Bill 2630”), while representatives with the parties PCdoB, PSOL and PT were in favor, with the hashtags #PL2630sim (“yes to Bill 2630”) and #InternetSemFakenews (“internet without fake news”). Additionally, representatives with the parties MDB, PSB and Cidadania defended the need for changes in the bill before sending it to a plenary vote, positioning themselves against the urgency of the vote, but not against the bill itself.

The congressman Orlando Silva (PCdoB-SP), rapporteur of the bill, was the representative with the most tweets during the analysis period, with posts that promoted and explained important points of the bill. He was followed by congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro (PL-SP), who made several posts campaigning against Bill No. 2630 and mobilizing his base of followers to pressure for the withdrawal of the urgent vote.

Other highlights in the congressional debate had a much smaller volume of posts than the discussions around the Fake News Bill, including a statement made by President Jair Bolsonaro about freedom of the press and the internet in a speech at the Federal Legislative Chamber, and the dismissal of presenter Bruno Aiub, known as Monark, from the Flow Podcast, after statements considered pro-Nazi.

A statement made by President Jair Bolsonaro criticizing media regulation, which took place on February 2 in a solemn opening session of the legislative year of the National Congress, was supported and shared in the networks by PL representatives. Congressman Camilo Capiberibe (PSB-AP) criticized the president’s statement.

The presenter Bruno Aiub defended the possibility of creating a Nazi party in Brazil during an episode of the Flow Podcast program on February 7, which included the participation of congresswoman Tabata Amaral (PSB-SP) and congressman Kim Kataguiri (DEM-SP). The presenter was dismissed from the program after the negative repercussion of his statement. In the following days, some representatives used Twitter to comment on the case in association with proposals for media regulation, defended by congressman Father João (PT-MG), and platform regulation, suggested by congresswoman Talíria Petrone (PSOL-RJ), who demanded a position from YouTube Brasil.

Regarding the suspension of Telegram by the Supreme Court, only congressman Sóstenes Cavalcante (PL-RJ) made a clear comment on Twitter, saying that the decision of Minister Alexandre de Moraes was a regrettable act of censorship and using the hashtags #CensuraNao (“no censorship) and #CensuraNuncaMais (“no more censorship”).
There were also many publications attacking former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the PT. On February 9, CNN Brasil reported that Lula is a defender of media regulation, followed by the newspaper O Antagonista on February 22 and by the Jovem Pan News network on February 23. The news were shared on Twitter by congressman and generated debate on the network.

It is worth noting that congress representatives who defend digital platform regulation have commented on the networks that there is a confusion in the use of terms related to this topic. They have pointed out that the regulation is seen as a form of censorship by several representatives who, as a result, have positioned themselves against even debating the subject.
The following graph shows the tendency of congressman from right-wing parties, especially the PL, to speak out against any type of regulation of networks and media in the analyzed period, often with comments that mention censorship and freedom of speech.

Figure 4 – Distribution of the opinions of congressional representatives in the debate about digital platform regulation on Twitter, per party
Analysis period: February 1 to April 6, 2022

Made with Flourish

. Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV DAPP

4. Conclusions

Although Brazil’s legislation is considered advanced regarding the rights and privacy protection of citizens on the internet, recent discussions on Twitter have shown that the country’s biggest challenge is the lack of a better understanding of what digital platform regulation is. That is true not only for ordinary users, but also for congress representatives legislating on the subject.

An example is the use of the term regulation itself, which is often distorted and interpreted as censorship, becoming seen as a threat to freedom of speech. In addition, the topics of digital platform regulation and media regulation appeared close together and were occasionally used interchangeably, with some representatives referring to Bill No. 2630 as a project for media regulation, rather than digital platform regulation.

The analysis also indicated the presence of a national agenda on digital platform regulation linked to two other debates: an older one, related to media regulation, and a more recent one, focused on the phenomenon of disinformation in digital social networks. In both cases, the debate is strongly marked by the dynamics of Brazilian institutional policy.

Although the differences are not evident in the Brazilian debate on Twitter, these two types of regulation have certain particularities. While media regulation focuses on the country’s large content producing conglomerates (which the NGO Repórteres Sem Fronteiras referred to as “the thirty Berlusconis”), the regulation of digital platforms targets transnational companies with global operations that concentrate a large portion of all internet traffic and self-regulate their services. While the former are markedly national and involve political actors, large media corporations and independent content producers, the latter are inherently global and influenced by political dynamics that, despite unfolding in the domestic sphere, have impacts that go beyond the national debate. That was the case in the 2016 Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom, the 2016 elections in the USA, and the 2018 elections in Brazil.

In addition, we found differences in the topics addressed for platform regulation by each audience analyzed. In the general debate, one of the highlights was the suspension of Telegram, while the posts made by congress representatives almost did not mention this topic. In the congressional debate, the discussion on Bill No. 2630 was more relevant. In general, it is clear that the topic of digital platform regulation is still debated very little on Twitter compared to other topics analyzed by FGV DAPP (RUEDIGER; GRASSI, 2020; RUEDIGER; GRASSI, 2021; RUEDIGER, 2021). The debate on digital platform regulation had a lower volume of mentions compared to the same number of days analyzed in the other studies.

Comparative studies about the public debate in different countries can help to understand whether the media regulation agenda is as relevant in the global debate on platform regulation as it seems to be in Brazil. As a discussion of a global nature (even though there are national perspectives), the regulation of platforms involves multiple factors that have different weights according to the local context and to how much it has repercussions at the international level.

While the issue of disinformation is a concern that draws the attention of a large part of the world, antitrust measures seem to have been more used in countries of the Global North, particularly in Europe, and they did not appear as much in the Brazilian debate in the analyzed period. Likewise, other aspects were prominent around the world in countries such as Myanmar and Sri Lanka, and less present in Brazilian social networks, such as the intensification of ethnic and identity conflicts.

In Brazil, the leading topic in the public debate on digital platform regulation on Twitter is clearly the fight against fake news and the mitigation of their negative impacts on democratic life. Although the analyzed period was of high activity regarding the process of Bill No. 2630 in Congress, there is no indication that its sanction will inhibit this perspective in the Brazilian public debate on platform regulation, since the issue of fake news is complex, controversial and will hardly be resolved a single new law.

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6. Editorial Staff

Research Coordination
Marco Aurelio Ruediger
Amaro Grassi

Beatriz Pinheiro
Dalby Dienstbach
Leonor Jungstedt
Lucas Roberto da Silva
Marcela Canavarro
Paula Audibert
Polyana Barboza

Technical Review
Renata Tomaz

Graphic Project
Daniel Almada
Luis Gomes


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