The role of social bots in the Brazilian environmental debate:

an analysis of the 2020 Amazon Forest fires in Twitter


  • Débora Salles Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro
  • Priscila Muniz de Medeiros Universidade Federal de Alagoas
  • Bruno Martins Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro
  • Lorena Regattieri Mozila Foundation
  • Rose Marie Santini



Social Bots, Computational Propaganda, Deforestation, Amazon forest, Twitter


This paper examines the use of computational propaganda in the Brazilian environmental debate, focusing on the 2020 Amazon Forest fire discussions on Twitter. Through the use of a bot detector algorithm and social network analysis, the research aims to understand the role of social bots and the extent to which automated accounts reverberate certain ideological positions. The study found that Twitter discussions were highly polarized between supporters and critics of former far-right president Jair Bolsonaro. While the participation of international celebrities in the debate increased the visibility of a civil society awareness campaign against the forest fires, it also triggered a computational propaganda counterattack by Bolsonaro’s supporters. Our analysis indicates that the anti-environmentalist reaction aimed at denying the existence of an environmental problem in the Brazilian Amazon was heavily amplified by automated and inauthentic accounts.


Agência Brasil. “Inpe: Desmatamento na Amazônia Legal tem aumento de 21,97% em 2021.” Agência Brasil, 2021,, Accessed 20 Apr. 2023.

Alencar, Ane et al. “Amazônia em Chamas: Onde Está o Fogo (No. 2)”. Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia, 2019,écnica_AmazoniaemChamas_Ondestáofogo-pt.pdf

Al-Rawi, Ahmed et al. “Twitter’s Fake News Discourses Around Climate Change and Global Warming”. Frontiers in Communication, 6, 729818, 2021.

Bastian, Mathieu et al. “Gephi: An Open Source Software for Exploring and Manipulating Networks”. Proceedings of the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media, 3(1), 361–362, 2009.

Benkler, Yochai et al. “Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics” (Vol. 1). Oxford University Press, 2018.

Chen, Chang-Feng et al. “Social bots’ role in climate change discussion on Twitter: Measuring standpoints, topics, and interaction strategies”. Advances in Climate Change Research, 12(6), 913–923, 2021.

@DFRLab. ‘Human, Bot or Cyborg?’ Medium, 2016.

Ferrara, Emilio et al. T”he rise of social bots”. Communications of the ACM, 59(7), 96–104, 2016.

Folha de São Paulo. “DiCaprio faz postagem em apoio à campanha ‘Defund Bolsonaro.’” Folha de São Paulo, 2020.

Grimme, Chistian et al. Changing Perspectives: Is It Sufficient to Detect Social Bots?” In G. Meiselwitz (Ed.), “Social Computing and Social Media. User Experience and Behavior” (Vol. 10913, pp. 445–461), 2018. Springer International Publishing.

Jacomy, Mathieu et al. “ForceAtlas2, a Continuous Graph Layout Algorithm for Handy Network Visualization Designed for the Gephi Software”. PLoS ONE, 9(6), e98679, 2014.

Kafruni, Simone. “Campanha ‘Defund Bolsonaro’ alerta para destruição da Amazônia”. Correio Braziliense, 2020.

Kehoe, Laura et al. “Make EU trade with Brazil sustainable”. Science, 364(6438), 341, 2019.

Keller, Tobias and Klinger, Ulrike. “Social Bots in Election Campaigns: Theoretical, Empirical, and Methodological Implications”. Political Communication, 36(1), 171–189, 2019.

Marlow, Thomas et al. “Bots and online climate discourses: Twitter discourse on President Trump’s announcement of U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement”. Climate Policy, 21(6), 765–777, 2021.

Martini, Franziska et al. “Bot, or not? Comparing three methods for detecting social bots in five political discourses”. Big Data & Society, 8(2), 205395172110335, 2021.

Merry, Melissa K. et al. “Tweeting for a cause: Microblogging and environmental advocacy: Microblogging and Environmental Advocacy”. Policy & Internet, 5(3), 304–327, 2013.

Michael, Katina. “Bots Trending Now: Disinformation and Calculated Manipulation of the Masses”. IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, 36(2), 6–11, 2017.

Mønsted, Bijarke et al. “Evidence of complex contagion of information in social media: An experiment using Twitter bots”. PLoS ONE, 12(9), e0184148, 2017.

Nimmo, Ben. “Robot Wars: How Bots Joined Battle in the Gulf”. Journal of International Affairs, 72(1.5), 87–96, 2018.

Rauchfleisch, Adrian and Kaiser, Jonas. “The False positive problem of automatic bot detection in social science research”. PLoS ONE, 15(10), e0241045, 2020.

Recuero, Raquel and Soares, Felipe. “Desinformação e Meio Ambiente: O caso das Queimadas no Pantanal Brasileiro”. Journal of Digital Media & Interaction, 3(8), 64–80, 2020.

Regattieri, Lorena. Algoritmização da vida: O debate sobre Amazônia e incêndios florestais no Twitter em 2020 Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, 2021.

Rossini, Patrícia et al. “Dysfunctional information sharing on WhatsApp and Facebook: The role of political talk, cross-cutting exposure and social corrections”. New Media & Society, 23(8), 2430–2451, 2021.

Santini, Rose Marie et al. “Gotcha Bot Detection: Context, Time and Place Matters”. SciELO Preprints, 2023.

Santini, Rose Marie et al. “When Machine Behavior Targets Future Voters: The Use of Social Bots to Test Narratives for Political Campaigns in Brazil”. International Journal of Communication, 15(2021), 1220–1243, 2021.

Sayyadiharikandeh, Mohsen et al. “Detection of Novel Social Bots by Ensembles of Specialized Classifiers”. Proceedings of the 29th ACM International Conference on Information & Knowledge Management, 2725–2732, 2020.

Shao, Chengcheng et al. “The spread of low-credibility content by social bots”. Nature Communications, 9(1), 4787, 2018.

Soares, Felipe and Recuero, Raquel. “Hashtag Wars: Political Disinformation and Discursive Struggles on Twitter Conversations During the 2018 Brazilian Presidential Campaign”. Social Media + Society, 7(2), 205630512110090, 2021.

Terranova, Tiziana. “Network Culture: Politics For the Information Age” (1st ed.). Pluto Press, 2004.

Treen, Kathie et al. “Online misinformation about climate change”. WIREs Climate Change, 11(5), e665, 2020.

Tyagi, Aman et al. “Polarizing Tweets on Climate Change”. Social, Cultural, and Behavioral Modeling Vol. 12268, pp. 107–117, 2020.

Varol, Onur et al.” Online Human-Bot Interactions: Detection, Estimation, and Characterization”. Proceedings of the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media, 11(1), 280–289, 2017.

Woolley, Samuel. “Bots and Computational Propaganda: Automation for Communication and Control”. In N. Persily and J. Tucker (Eds.), Social Media and Democracy: The State of the Field, Prospects for Reform (pp. 89–110), 2020. Cambridge University Press.

Woolley, Samuel and Howard, Philip. “Political Communication, Computational Propaganda, and Autonomous Agents—Introduction”. International Journal of Communication, 10(2016), 4882–1890, 2016.

Woolley, Samuel and Howard, Philip. (Eds.). “Computational Propaganda: Political Parties, Politicians, and Political Manipulation on Social Media” (Vol. 1). Oxford University Press, 2018.




How to Cite

Salles, Débora, Priscila Muniz de Medeiros, Bruno Martins, Lorena Regattieri, and Rose Marie Santini. 2024. “The Role of Social Bots in the Brazilian Environmental debate:: An Analysis of the 2020 Amazon Forest Fires in Twitter”. The International Review of Information Ethics 33 (1). Edmonton, Canada.