Uncovering Hidden Spaces of Populism in Brazil: The Case of Bolsonaro Supporters in WhatsApp Groups

Authors: David Nemer*, University of Kentucky
Topics: Latin America, Qualitative Research, Cultural Geography
Keywords: Brazil, Populism, WhatsApp
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Executive Room, Omni, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Jair Bolsonaro is more known for his controversial speeches than his own presidential plan. He is a far-right firebrand who has celebrated dictatorship and torture, and verbally threatened Brazil’s women, black, and LGBTQ people. However, none of this seems to have an impact on Bolsonaro’s popularity as he has been the favorite to win the elections from the beginning. Running a campaign based on the idea that his presidency is the only hope to end violence and corruption in Brazil, his base voters call him “The Legend” and expect him to reinstate law and order in the country. Whereas Trump and Brexit supporters turned to Facebook for political and electoral information, Bolsonaro’s base relies on WhatsApp. To understand their motivations, hopes, fears, and desires, I joined 4 pro-Bolsonaro’s WhatsApp groups, where I spent five months, May to October of 2018, receiving an average of 4000 messages per day. Following a participant observation approach, I analyzed the group members’ interactions and behavior, as well as the media and messages posted by them. This content was daily analyzed and grouped in thematic clusters, and based on the preliminary findings, I have identified three clusters of members across the groups: the ordinary Brazilians, Bolsominions, and the influencers. These findings reveal the role of each cluster and the power dynamics between them. By focusing on their information practices, it was also possible to reveal how and when they produce and share misinformation in order to maintain Bolsonaro’s popularity and their anger against the left.

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