Back in late 2019, as protests raged across several countries in South America, Twitter became an online extension of the real-life battlefields. The same will likely be true if a new round of protests hits the region in 2023, which is not farfetched given current economic forecasts. That raises big questions over whether and how Elon Musk’s ownership of the platform will affect how protests are organized, how governments respond and how disinformation spreads.
Social media including Twitter played a role in organizing protests in Colombia, Ecuador and Chile in 2019 and before, but the initial organization of protests often takes place in semi-private networks. Once demonstrations have begun, however, Twitter becomes the site that matters most in shaping the political narrative about the protests and whether they escalate.
In 2019, Twitter was the platform where activists shared videos and other information about police abuses, which in turn shaped public opinion, drove yet more people to the streets and in many cases kept the momentum going. Latin America’s mainstream media, many of which would have avoided broadcasting similar information in the past, were forced to report on events including police abuses against protesters due to videos that were filmed on smartphones and uploaded to Twitter, where they spread rapidly and broadly.