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Emerging forest governance issues through hashtags

Forest governance deals with a wide range of issues and concerns from deforestation to global trade, from land use to sustainable financing. We were curious to know which kinds of concerns surfaced on social media in relation to the 2019 Amazon forest fires, and which became global talking points. We looked at how these concerns surfaced in relation to the fires.

Looking at how the hashtags associated with Amazon fires on Twitter relate to each other*, one can observe different voices, concerns and positioning around a wide variety of forest governance issues, involving international and national political, business and other public figures.

This issue story depicts a selection of insights collected through a series of conversations with forest governance experts and journalists, many of whom followed the event closely during the peak period when the event became a global issue.

*We collected Twitter data covering the period of 24th August to 2nd September 2019 (10 days) using the following hashtags: #ActForTheAmazon, #amazonfires, #AmazonRainforest, #PrayforAmazonia, #SaveTheAmazon, and #SOSAmazonia. We then looked at which other hashtags were associated with tweets containing the hashtags we started with, and observed different voices, concerns and positioning around a wide variety of forest governance issues, involving international and national political, business and other public figures.

Hashtags can act as an indicator of the issues and concerns of different publics and social media users. They can help us understand how different issues are associated with the fires, as well as which actors are involved in these issues.


1 — Constellation of narratives supporting and opposing Bolsonaro and/or Macron


Bolsonaro and Macron's 'War of Words'

One of the most visible clusters was associated with the Brazilian President Bolsonaro and the series of events and exchanges between him and the French President Macron, referred to as the ‘war of words’ by The Guardian.

When the Amazon rainforest fires became international news, Macron tweeted the need to address the Amazon rainforest fires at the G7 meeting on 22 August 2019, receiving support from the Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau. Bolsonaro then criticised Macron for using the Brazilian issue for personal political gain, saying that suggesting a discussion of the issue without Brazil's involvement showed a colonial mentality in the 21st century.

At the same time, Bolsonaro supposedly mocked the French first lady in a Facebook post, to which Macron responded that this was “disrespectful” during the G7 press conference. Brazil then rejected $20 million in aid offered by G7 countries, followed by Twitter exchanges between the former US President Trump and Bolsonaro showing support for each other.

When looking at the network, the hashtags denouncing Bolsonaro or showing support for Macron were more visible than the hashtags that are either supporting Bolsonaro or criticising Macron. Brazilian perspectives against Bolsonaro were prominent including many hashtags in Portuguese.

While the hashtags critical towards Macron and showing support to Bolsonaro were scattered across the network, not forming any clusters of their own, the hashtags against Bolsonaro were positioned closely with other hashtags criticising Bolsonaro.


These hashtags were identified as the hashtags against Bolsonaro or pro-Macron.

These hashtags were identified as the hashtags against Macron or pro-Bolsonaro (in all languages).

The hashtags against Bolsonaro portray voices and concerns from the State of Pará and Rio de Janeiro to Peru

When zooming into #forabolsonaro, one of the most popular hashtags against Bolsonaro with over 2300 tweets, the top tweet was a tweet by Dilma Bolada, a fictional character who became a social media influencer during the terms of Dilma Rousseff, the former Brazilian president. With 1.1 million followers, the account called for protests in various cities in Brazil. Another tweet posted a video claiming to show the fires reaching a residential street in the state of Para, one of the Brazilian states with an increasing deforestation rate. There was also a tweet with a video of protests at the Brazilian embassy in Peru, using hashtags that criticise Bolsonaro and Ricardo Salles, the former Brazilian Environment Minister.


Dilma Bolada’s account was also visible when looking into the hashtags #panelaco and #panelaço. Panelaco is a form of protest which was originally used against the former Dilma government and was later taken over by the protestors against Bolsonaro. The social media influencer’s account tweeted calling for a balcony protest by banging pots and pans at their window using a photo of the former president Dilma holding a pan and sharing a video of panelaço in Rio de Janeiro. One of these tweets was also shared by the Brazilian Labour Party Senator Humberto Costa and the former Health Minister.

While not as prominent as those against him, voices supporting Bolsonaro were also present

When zooming into pro-Bolsonaro hashtags it is possible to identify tweets from pro-Bolsonaro accounts, many of which are suspended on Twitter. For instance, #MacronLiar was used to criticise the NGOs presence in the Amazon. The narrative corresponds to Bolsonaro’s statement on 21 August 2019 accusing them of setting the fires.


Another pro-Bolsonaro hashtag, #vivabolsonaro, was used in a tweet by a columnist of Breitbart, an American far-right news site. The tweet included a link to the Breitbart’s article “Delingpole: Amazon Fires – A Big, Fat Nothingburger of a #FakeNews Scare Story”. The article criticised the news from the mainstream media as “fake news” and twisted the narrative to portray alternative ways to interpret the scientific insights. Interestingly, to do so, the article used a mix of references ranging from tweets from suspended accounts to those from scientists.

2 - The global North-South link: from deforestation drivers and consumer responsibilities, to international trade and crimes in the forests

Linking deforestation with consumer responsibilities

Some people who tweeted with trending Amazon fires-related hashtags made the connection between deforestation and consumer responsibilities. As shown below, a number of deforestation drivers such as #cattleranching, #beef, #soybeans and #palmoil were brought up in close proximity to the deforestation hashtags including #stopdeforestation, #amazondeforestation, #defunddeforestation. A number of hashtags also referred to consumer practices around meat or beef, such as #gowithoutbeef, #govegan, and #stopeatingmeat.


Linking deforestation with business, investment, trade, economy and crimes

There were also business, investment, economy and trade-related hashtags forming different clusters. Specific company names such as Minerva, one of the biggest meat processing companies in the world, and Blackrock, the leading investment firm criticised for investing in deforestation also emerged. Some referred to tradewars (i.e. #tradewars) and Mercosur (i.e. #eumercosur, #stopmercosur), while others brought up the CEOs name (#stephenschwarzman, #jeffbezos). There is also a cluster on the top left where #taxpayer, #bank and #cocoa sit close to #trumpaskidsincage and #liarinchief.

At the centre bottom, one can also identify a cluster where #financing, #highway, and #transport appear next to #responsible. These hashtags were brought together with #farmers, indicating the link with agricultural activities. #responsible was also brought together with #mercosur, a trade bloc.


Linking deforestation with contested agricultural practices

Hashtags such as #gmo, #glyphosate, and #glifosato are associated with #climatechange, #bolsonaro and #brazil. A company name, #monsanto and #boycott were brought together with #gmo and #glyphosate. In the case of #gmo, the following hashtags have been tweeted together: #deforestation, #plantatree, #forestfires, #bees, #agribusiness, #soybeans, #reforestation, and #protest.


These hashtags (#gmo, #glyphosate, and #glifosato) were positioned closely with #crimeagainsthumanity and #stopdeforestation. For instance, #crimeagainsthumanity was brought together with #ecocide, #GOP (the US Republican party), #environment and hashtags against Bolsonaro and Ricardo Salles.

There was also a cluster referring to crime, misconduct and conflict, including hashtags such as #warcrime, #corruption, #pollution, #tradewar, #landgrabbing, sitting closely with #leather, #europe, and #cop24.

Linking the Amazon fires with rights-related issues

Rights-related issues have also been brought up, namely #animalrights, #landrightsnow, #indigenousirghts, #humanrights and #defendindigenousrights.


This project is part of the “New Ways for Forest Governance: connecting science, policy and society (NEWGO!)”, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL).