The Role of Social Media and Brand Participation During Peruvian Protests 

By Adriana Hiromoto

Social media has a great power that allows us to speak up and share our thoughts. You can find people with your same ideas and share your opinion or open a debate with people who disagree. These digital platforms have been used as a tool to encourage political, social, and environmental discussions relevant to our society to the extent that allow the organisation of movements and protests. Users can participate in different ways but most of the time they are encouraging conversation and therefore raising awareness about the movement. Brands also play a big role in times of crisis, they have a responsibility and must share their viewpoints. We want brands that align with our values and are committed to fight injustices and encourage positive change. Those brands who disguise their strategy as being an ally for a movement will be recognised by increasingly woke customers. I will discuss the role of social media and the importance of brand participation during social movements, especially during the Peruvian protests in November 2020.

Unfortunately, corruption in Peru is not a surprise, to the extent that all presidents since I can remember have been investigated, imprisoned, are fugitives from justice, or in the case of Alan Garcia, committed suicide when the police entered his home to arrest him. In November 2020, young Peruvian citizens protested against Manuel Merino’s government that took power without citizen legitimacy after President Vizcarra’s impeachment. Vizcarra was the secondpresident to leave office in the current presidential term after Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. Before coming to power, Manuel Merino was the Head of Congress but the scandal arose when he was questioned for contacting the Armed Forces before the vacancy process. This generated a lack of trust for most Peruvians, especially after the continuous corruption scandals.


Instagram, Twitter, and even TikTok became our main source of information, evidencing police brutality and key information about the protests.


Full of anger and tired of politicians acting for their benefit and not the countries’, thousands of protesters went on the street and protested against Merino and the congress. The movement was mainly organized via social media platforms after Merino censored and manipulated the mass media. Merino’s trusted collaborators asked different media channels to stop the broadcast about protests, this resulted in the resignation of Renzo Mazzei, Press Manager of the National Institute of Radio and Television of Peru who refused to be part of the silenced press and spoke up. The movement was minimised and criminalised by the media only until Merino’s inevitable resignation. Instagram, Twitter, and even TikTok became our source of information, evidencing the police brutality and key information about the protests. The social unrest lasted a week, most protesters were young Peruvians fighting for the future of our country. During the protests, two young men, Inti Sotelo and Bryan Pintado were killed because of the constant abuse and police brutality. After irrefutable evidence of the police using fire weapons and tear gas, they continue to deny it. All of these happened amid the devastating consequences of the pandemic when Peru had the second-highest Covid-19 death rate in the world. The Peruvian youth joined together as a collective public with a shared identity, debating the political turmoil in the country, sharing opinions, and aiming to be politically woke by fighting for our democratic rights.

The Role of Social Media

The role of digital platforms during the Peruvian protests was crucial to defend democracy and organise the collective movement. Posts were published and reposted to disseminate information about the protests and expressed disapproval of the new government. Some shared information on where protests would start, how to neutralize tear gas, and even cell phone footage evidencing police brutality. For the week of the protests, Peruvian protesters expected to only source information from social media because of the mass traditional media censorship.

Social media has been used as a stage for political protests and social movements for a long time (Melton, 2020). Zeynep Tufekci, an expert sociologist, mentions that it is possible to start an uprising through social media because it has the advantage and possibility of “public attention, evading censorship and coordination or logistics” (Tufekci, 2014). Previous movements in which social media was used as a tool for change were the Arab Spring 2.0, Hong Kong Protests, the Black Lives Matter protest in early 2020, and now the Peruvian Protest. Digital platforms are being used as modern tools to challenge authorities, share injustices and advocate for change.


Noelia Chevez, Peruvian sociologist created the term “Generación del Bicentenario”


It is possible to argue that older generations wouldn't participate in protests having a pessimistic view after experiencing vast corrupt politics, and lived in fear in the years of terrorism, when extremely violent protests were common. Even though the country’s situation causes indignation and anger, their past experiences showed them that protesting wouldn't get them too far and might end up in disaster. The people who protested were mostly the younger generations, worried for the future of our country because we will be the ones facing the consequences. It is possible that youth participation was encouraged as a personal responsibility, social pressure, or the need for acceptance through social media but the final results made it all worth it. Noelia Chevez, Peruvian sociologist created the term “Generación del Bicentenario” a group conformed by the younger generation which is characterized by our diversity. Social Media has become a public space that maintains this generation informed and sharing similar thoughts.

Meaningful Participation during Protests

Any type of participation in social media during a political, social, or environmental crisis is meaningful and contributes to the collective goal. Belonging to this cooperative public can be expressed in different ways. The academic in communication studies, Henry Jenkins divides audiences into “the active” and “the lurkers”. The “active” participants create content and interact regularly on these mediated platforms. On the other hand, “lurkers” don’t produce content, just observe and consume the content. Even though it is possible to categorise social media audiences and their behaviour I would argue that these categories are not fixed, as they can quickly change anytime based on the situation. A user who usually consumes content could start creating content in a situation of crisis. Notwithstanding, most users don’t create but repost and share others’ content. They are still contributing to the movement by broadening the conversation and raising awareness.

Why are brands involved in social and political movements?

The reciprocal interaction of brands and their audiences is key for a successful relationship, brands need to listen to what customers want and share the same values. Brands have taken over social media aiming to increase user engagement, develop brand awareness, targeting audiences, and ultimately increasing sales. With their social media presence, they are establishing an affective relationship with their customers. Brand communities are groups of customers who are interested and emotionally attached to a specific brand. Some believe that these communities are the brand’s machinations to develop corporate ownership over a group of people. Notwithstanding, with the collaborative tools of social media, customers can create the brand community themselves, turning into active participants and creators (Jenkins, 2013). Brands can increase customer loyalty through these communities and can also use their customers’ personal stories and branded content created by them. However, the customers also expect things back, for example, customers want brands to speak up about their position on relevant current events. Currently, 83% of young consumers want to support companies only if they align with their values. If the brand's behaviour change and don’t align with the communities’ values, that community might even turn against their brand, as they have power and voices of their own through the digital platforms. During a political crisis or social movement, brands must make a statement and contribute to the conversation around the debated topic, having done previous research to understand their audience’s opinions.

Brands play a big role during social movements because their social media followers, customers, and their brand community are likely involved and want to know the brand’s position. Peruvian brands were expected to speak up about the current political situation, or they would be seen as insensitive with the idea that being silent is being complicit. Many businesses made a statement declaring their position, but some even offered their services for free to support those who protested. These brands were successfully recognised by the public and suddenly grew their followers, engagement and, communities.


Users are on the lookout for brands that use political and social causes to increase sales and likeability.


Oftalmo Salud, an ophthalmology clinic published on Instagram a post with “#WeAreWithYouPeru” which said, “if your eyes have been hurt during the protests, contact us, and the costs will be covered by us.” Police used tear gas and violence trying to stop the protests, so many were injured and in need of medical support. Health care in Peru is not free, and the protests occurred when the country had the second-highest Covid-19 death rate in the world, so all health centres were collapsed. Oftalmo Salud’s statement was very meaningful to many people who fought for Peruvian democracy. Brands are managed by a marketing team that strategically analyses what their audience and brand community wants, this campaign was successful and sincere. However, users are on the lookout for brands that use political and social causes to increase sales and likeability.

During the Peruvian political protests, the brand Muzano Jeans made a photoshoot and social media advertisement showing their products. However, in the background, we can see the armed police forces. During the protests, two young men were killed because of the constant abuse and police brutality. Muzano Jeans attempted to use the situation to get attention, but it backfired full of criticism from their brand community. Sometimes the audience’s responses can be positive, seeing the brand acting upon their social responsibility and taking a stand, but with a slight mistake of communication, it can also cause the opposite response and be seen as deceptive and fake. Fundamentally, brands understand their audience, community, and contemporary issues on advertising and digital media.

So, what do we want?


It is difficult to identify if a brand is truly making an effort of challenging systemic injustices or is simply a strategic performance.


Brands are strategically commodifying social movements to appeal to their audience and relate to their values. Francesca Sobande examines the term “woke-washing” and how brand narratives are constructed persuading consumers to support brands that just portray branded commodities as activism. She defines the marketing of “woke” bravery as brands acting as allies of social movements (Sobande, 2019). It is difficult to identify if a brand is truly making an effort of challenging systemic injustices or is simply a strategic performance. Public discourse about structural inequality gives space to many users to present their arguments and challenge opposing viewpoints.

We want brands that show transparency and sincerity, we don’t support brands just for their product or service but it is important to share the same values. We expect brands to speak up about current political and social issues, it’s part of their corporate social responsibility. Users are aware of the brand’s performative allyship which only uses movements as a strategy to appeal to audiences. Therefore, our role as an audience is to be woke and conscious to be able to identify when brands do this. It is crucial that brands properly research and create a strategy to be involved showing genuine concern and commitment to contribute to change. The power of social media platforms is continuously evolving and it is essential that brands are always aware of the contemporary trends and issues in digital media.

About the Writer

Adriana Hiromoto is currently a BA Advertising student at London College of Communications UAL. She was born and raised in Lima, Peru, and has Japanese descendancy from both sides of her family. Adriana has always been interested in expressing ideas visually and explored different ways to do it. She has discovered different passions such as collages, journaling, and design.

After finishing school in 2018, she received a scholarship for Graphic Design and Advertising at the University of the Arts and Science of Latin America. Adriana then had the opportunity to move to London in 2019 to study BA Advertising.  As an international student, she wants to discover new perspectives around the world but always having in mind her values and Peruvian background.

Adriana is also discovering the world of design and branding through new projects and freelance work. She is trying to find new challenges in the creative industry and meeting new people from around the world.

Key Words: Social media, protests, brands.

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