With 39 million YouTube subscribers and 12 million Twitter followers, Felipe Neto, 32, is the most consequential digital influencer in Brazil, possibly in the world.
Neto’s online dominance is not new. A decade ago, from his family’s humble Rio de Janeiro home, he began creating content for YouTube and quickly found fame, a huge and loyal young audience, and lucrative endorsements. What has changed—radically—is how Neto uses his platform. His early notoriety was generated by standard fare for online adolescents: video games, celebrities and girls. But with the 2018 election of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and the empowerment of his proto-fascist movement, Neto, risking his brand and safety, repurposed his popularity to become one of Bolsonaro’s most effective opponents.
Neto meets Bolsonaro on the very social-media platforms the President deftly navigated to disseminate false information and gain followers during his election. In May, Neto’s video denouncing fellow influencers who remain silent about Bolsonaro’s authoritarianism was viewed by millions. In July, he detailed how Bolsonaro has been the world’s most destructive leader in the COVID-19 pandemic in a video for the New York Times. The Bolsonaro family has often responded to him on social media, sometimes later deleting their posts.
Neto’s first major involvement in politics, in 2016, was a misguided protest against former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s center-left Workers’ Party. His trajectory reflects a vital truth, which I, as a socialist Congressman, emphasize to the left: we should embrace and nourish the ability of humans to grow and evolve rather than writing them off for past transgressions.
When Felipe Neto speaks, millions listen. And his now righteous politicized voice powerfully resonates in a country whose democracy is imperiled.
Miranda is a Brazilian Congressman representing Rio de Janeiro
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