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10 whatsapp for lgbt+ rights


All Out




01 02 03 05

Innovation Category


Using new digital tools and tactics to speak to all sections of society.


Experimentation with new tools, tactics and partnerships to engage and motivate new supporters for LGBT+ rights under attack in Brazil.

Main Features of the Populist Context

On 28 October 2018, far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro was elected Brazil’s president. Before then, he was not much more than a political outcast in Congress, known for his hateful and inflammatory rhetoric: paying homage to one of the most notorious torturers from Brazil’s military dictatorship, for example, or claiming he “would rather die in a car accident than have a gay son”. Yet, after a campaign fuelled by disinformation and fear-mongering, he was elected with 55% of the valid votes. Bolsonaro is one of the country’s most vocal anti-gay advocates. As president, he has continued to fuel violence and discrimination against LGBT+ Brazilians.

With Bolsonaro at the helm, the two core elements of populism are present in Brazil:

anti-elitism: Divisiveness has characterised Bolsonaro’s populist rhetoric throughout his career. During his presidential run, he attacked the previous left-leaning administration as an “enemy to be fought” and labeled it as responsible for all issues negatively affecting Brazilian society. For example, after his first round win, Bolsonaro called the opposition “red bandits”, and publicly threatened to jail or banish them from Brazil.

anti-pluralism: By capitalising on divisive “us versus them” rhetoric, Bolsonaro’s administration not only dramatically simplifies Brazil’s complexities, but also places anyone who opposes his views or opinions in the “them” camp. This is a long list ranging from journalists investigating corruption scandals to civil society organisations (CSOs) to foreign governments that question his policies and to even his own former supporters. Most dangerously, this rhetoric positions Bolsonaro as the sole voice of “us”, allowing him to push through his ideas without regard for protocol or expertise.

Additional features of populism include:

anti-debate: For example, Bolsonaro failed to attend any debates during the second round of the elections, and is known for shutting down press briefings when asked questions he does not want to answer.

resistant to countervailing facts: Bolsonaro not only dismissed the latest data on Amazon deforestation as lies, but also fired the scientist ultimately in charge of producing the numbers.

rejects intermediaries: Bolsonaro frequently addresses Brazilians using Twitter and Facebook Live, often prioritising these channels over official ones, such as when he forewent a meeting with the French Foreign Minister to get (and livestream) his hair cut.

crisis, breakdown or threat: Bolsonaro uses this as a political strategy, for example making headlines by stating that Brazil-based US journalist Glenn Greenwald “might do some jail time in Brazil” for reporting on political scandals. He has also declared he will fight “gender ideology” and the “problem of migration” in Brazil, presenting them as crises even though they barely exist in reality.

Role of Digital Media

Digital media — particularly WhatsApp, a Facebook-owned messaging platform — plays a key role in Bolsonaro’s political strategy. During his presidential run, his campaign delivered massive amounts of misinformation to millions of phones across Brazil. Every time that Bolsonaro picks an “opponent” (usually on social media), fake news and defamatory statements against that target start circulating on WhatsApp almost immediately. WhatsApp is also used by 120 million Brazilians to convene digital civil society spaces, communicate and take action. All Out’s recent decision to adopt this platform as its main mobilisation tool was significant not only for benefiting from a popular means for citizens to connect, but also as a direct response to the Bolsanaro administration’s aggressive weaponisation of this technology.

As a Facebook-owned platform, WhatsApp user data may remain vulnerable to exploitation by groups or governments using micro-targeting for the manipulation of elections or referendums. All Out will need to carefully monitor this risk. However, progressive civil society forces like All Out cannot simply leave the online “market square” and surrender the digital space to those spreading hate with terrifying effectiveness through these tools. CSOs also need to monitor the risk that the progressive monetisation of these Facebook-owned platforms privileges the ideas and interests of well-resourced actors over others.


Main Features of the Innovation

All Out launched a pilot project in mid-2018 to understand how to effectively “localise” its work in Brazil, establishing a presence in the country and adapting its tactics and tools to build support for LGBT+ rights. Initially, All Out employed its standard global tactic and tool of using email for mobilisation. For every new LGBT+ rights campaign, the organisation emails the members in its database and prompts them to take action. All Out also started using WhatsApp informally and, thanks to the platform’s importance and reach in Brazil, soon noticed considerably more engagement among its new membership there. All Out has therefore adopted WhatsApp as its core mobilisation tool in Brazil, a significant shift for the organisation and a new practice among civil society groups in the country.

The main features of the innovation include:

All Out invested in more consistent learning and testing on WhatsApp, and reached out to other partner groups in Brazil to assess if and how they were also using it. Despite its relevance, not many were using it as a mobilisation tool, and the few that did only saw it as a peripheral piece of their strategy.

Using a less formal approach and a significant amount of manual management, All Out launched its WhatsApp strategy in October 2018. Its goals were twofold: first, to determine if Brazilians would be interested in engaging with the organisation there, and second, to assess whether it could build a constituency on the platform. All Out used paid promotions on Facebook and added “Join us on WhatsApp” asks in its emails, social media channels, and website. Within a month, All Out had generated 3,000 signups.

This initial spike in growth prompted All Out to make additional investments in its WhatsApp strategy. It adopted a Brazil-based bot management platform, RapidPro, to expand and refine the way it was managing WhatsApp and tested two additional recruitment strategies:

An engaging quiz about LGBT+ rights that members could answer on WhatsApp.

An innovative partnership with the national branch of US ice-cream brand Ben & Jerry’s. Users received free toppings in return for signing up on WhatsApp to help fight for LGBT+ rights.

These combined tactics were soon successful, bringing in more than 18,000 sign ups in less than two months: more than All Out’s entire constituency in key countries. With this success, All Out migrated to an official WhatsApp account. While navigating Facebook’s requirements, costs and monetisation ambitions is time consuming, All Out will soon fully launch its WhatsApp-focused actions in Brazil.

Key Takeaways

  1. All Out’s experience demonstrates the importance of researching and adapting well-established tools and tactics to local environments. Indeed, All Out’s local, native capacity was key to understanding if and how the mobilisation strategy needed to change in order to work in Brazil. All Out’s critical mass of local staff helped tailor strategies specifically to Brazil.

  2. Adopting a new platform has required re-thinking the organisation’s voice and practices. While All Out was fairly comfortable with the possibilities of email mobilisation, moving to WhatsApp forced it to experiment with new communication.

  3. Using WhatsApp presents an opportunity, but also significant risk. Relying on a Facebook- owned platform poses significant questions about how data is used and managed, as well as significant costs. As Facebook is still defining how it will further monetise WhatsApp, there are increased risks involved in investing in the platform.

Innovation Categorisation

We have categorised this as an emergent, transformational innovation. This updated use of tools, tactics and partnerships for mobilisation is new for civil society groups in Brazil, and is already showing early success in recruiting new supporters. However, it is still emergent, as the most significant outcomes are expected when All Out deploys WhatsApp more widely.

Innovating Organisation

All Out is an international organisation that runs campaigns for LGBT+ rights around the world. It uses creative mobilisation tactics, both online and offline, to raise global awareness and push for change in moments of crisis or opportunity around LGBT+ rights.

Innovation Report     2019