Brazil owns Twitter as da Silva appeals court drama unfolds

January 24, 2018

A supporter uses her cellphone during a protest in support of ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018. Brazil ruled Twitter briefly, as this nation of more than 200 million turned its attention to the judges who were ruling on an appeal of a corruption conviction against da Silva. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil ruled Twitter briefly Wednesday as this nation of more than 200 million turned its attention to the judges who were deciding on an appeal by former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of his corruption conviction.

By the late afternoon, all three appellate judges voted to uphold the conviction, raising the specter that the former leader won’t be able to run in October for the presidency despite leading in the polls.

For a few hours as the appeals deliberations were broadcast live, three of the top 10 topics trending worldwide on Twitter were about the case. The vast quantity of tweets about the case — more than 520,000 by early evening — showed the power of social media-mad Brazil to force its way into the global conversation.

They also displayed the trademark Brazilian ability to maintain a sense of humor even as the judges’ rulings polarized the country and threatened to shake the country’s political stability.

For a few hours, the worldwide trending list was topped by the hashtag “MoluscoNaCadeia,” or “MolluskInJail.” That is a play on the fact that da Silva is universally known as “Lula,” which is a common nickname for Luiz but also means squid in Portuguese.

Reflecting the other side of the debate, the hashtag “CadeAProva,” or “WhereIsTheProof,” also trended.

Da Silva’s supporters say he is being persecuted to keep him from running for the presidency again. Detractors note that da Silva and his left-leaning Workers’ Party were running the country while a huge corruption scheme siphoned billions from state oil company Petrobras.

After the judges voted to uphold the conviction, several users who were rooting for that outcome tweeted, “MAKE BRAZIL GREAT AGAIN,” a twist on U.S. President Donald Trump’s slogan during his 2016 campaign.

User @jefferson_hegel wrote: “Corruption exists the world over, but a fan club for the corrupt only exists in Brazil.”

Supporters of the former president insisted he was being railroaded. User @kazusugiyama tweeted: “I had proof against Lula here but my dog ate it.”

Such political debates often take place on social media in Brazil, where the research firm eMarketer estimates there are about 107 million social network users.

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