Speech and Deforestation: Evidence from the Impact of Bolsonaro’s Tweets in the Brazilian Amazon
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Can a leader’s speech affect real-life outcomes? Can politicians’ messages in social media change the perceived societal acceptance of behavior, such as illegal deforestation? To answer these questions, I explore the specific context of the rise in Brazil’s politics of a very influential leader with a clear discourse on socio-environmental issues, Jair Bolsonaro, to analyze the relationship between speech and deforestation. By looking at his official Twitter account, I create a measure of the intensity of negative discourse on the environmental issues, and, by interacting it with political support in the 2018 election, I find evidence of the effect of his speech on deforestation. One standard deviation increase on Bolsonaro’s negative tweets’ measure is associated with 7.81% more deforestation in municipalities that supported him than municipalities that did not. The effect is significant and robust to different empirical model specifications and definitions of political support.