Sunday, June 04, 2023 | Dhu al-Qaadah 14, 1444 H
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Lessons from Brazil: Not for the weak

Radio and television stations, as well as newspapers, were all heavily involved in presenting their preferred candidates, but social media platforms proved to be the mainstream media

The Brazilian presidential campaign has served as a laboratory for political scientists and media scholars. The richness of variants is even more important for a deep look during the 30 days leading up to the second round of voting after no clear winner clinched the country’s presidency.

Politics, religion, lies, skewed narratives, racism, violence, and armed attacks were all part of the political campaign. People freely expressed their opinions, and some took their ideologies into their hands to do so. Enemies were constructed from heated debates among friends and relatives; they would have to be crushed. The election campaign provided us with a scenario that not even the best scriptwriter could have created.

Radio and television stations, as well as newspapers, were all heavily involved in presenting their preferred candidates, but social media platforms proved to be the mainstream media. Kwai and TikTok are credited with having influenced this year’s Brazilian presidential election. The two apps take into account engagement (share, like, or comment), instead of the number of followers. While Tik Tok is known for dancing, Kwai is known for humorous satires and soap operas.

The popularisation of apps has created several political niches. And, a large number of YouTube and Instagram creators migrated to TikTok to guide a political discussion. Celebrities and influencers urged young people to get politically engaged and to vote for the candidate endorsed by the account holder; a canine loyalty.

Fake platforms, partisan sites, and each one of the more than 156 million registered voters were having a say in the political discourse. During the campaign, both candidates, Jair Bolsonaro and Luiz Inacio da Silva (Lula), had their online strategies focused on engaging more ideological voters, influencing undecided voters, and to a certain extent, considering fighting ‘fake news’ against their candidacies.

The presidential campaign has also gone into the metaverse. Politics and games –with servers in the open search! Unlike the debate on open networks that maintain some sort of moderation tools, the environment on politics and games servers is more violent with misogyny, and racism. Supporters of both candidates have organised motorcades and online meetings to defend their candidates. Supporters of Jair Bolsonaro realised motorcades with game platforms – imitating the real world in digital, while supporters of Lula used the networks to try to convince the public that gaming has become more expensive under the current government.

Certainly, it was not easy to identify the ‘official’ sites of information from those technical and sophisticated content creator sites. Fake profiles and message automation were widely used strategies. The polarisation of information by groups with specific interests influenced the production of hate speech. Baby steps in media literacy were insufficient to navigate the ocean of false information and biased stories. It demanded a lot of time and effort to search, investigate, and match sites, language, design, content, photo, and video angles. A true lesson in political communication media literacy.

The visual material had a strong impact. Only a day before the election, cameras captured a congresswoman armed with a gun persecuting a man in Sao Paulo; days before, cameras recorded a political ally of the Bolsonaro clan shooting and using a hand grenade against federal policemen. In both cases, the discourse signs the normalisation of disrespect to the law.

On top of the chaotic and polarised campaign settings, those who would be the official sources of information, such as ministers, congressmen, congresswomen, armed forces officers, and associates, all actively participated in the creation of political discourses designed to appeal to cognitive psychology, in which belief and values were used as a rationalisation to justify the choice of candidate.

It has not been a political laboratory talk, but rather a preview of what is to come.

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