Digital Democracy

Digitalization and the Public Sphere in Brazil

From Corruption to Violence

The debate on crime in the 2022 elections

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1. Executive Summary

This report presents an overview on the public electoral debate on violence and crime in Brazil. In order to understand how these topics were perceived and discussed, FGV Comunicação Rio performed a multiplatform analysis based on posts and publications on Twitter and Facebook between January 1 and July 18, 2022. Analyses with different approaches were performed to explore the subject, including maps of interactions, topic evolution, word clouds of associated terms, and lists with major links in the debate. Overall, we found that the discussion on violence and crime became a highlight and gradually replaced the space occupied by corruption in the debate.

Violence and crime; 2022 elections; Electoral debate.


Summary of Results

Corruption, a central topic in the last electoral cycle, was gradually replaced by the debate on crime and violence in 2022. The association of the topic with mentions to Jair Bolsonaro and Lula was higher than 20% in July.
The right- and left-wing groups tied in volume of profiles. However, Bolsonaro’s supporters accounted for around 53% of the interactions. In turn, the third way did no have a strong presence, with 6.2% of the profiles in the debate.
While Bolsonaro was pressured by corruption scandals and accusations of encouraging political violence, the attacks on Lula changed from accusations of corruption to attempts to associate him with criminal factions.


2. Results and Discussion

1) Interactions

Figure 1 - Map of interactions related to violence/crime in the debate about the presidential candidates on Twitter
Period: May 1 to July 18, 2022

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

. Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

Left wing – 43.26% of profiles | 40.85% of interactions
Driven by profiles of bloggers, entertainment channels and left-wing politicians, with a highlight on the profile of the then presidential candidate Lula, this group commented about (and denounced) the deaths of Brazilian indigenous expert Bruno Araújo Pereira and English journalist Dom Phillips, for defending indigenous lands and the Amazon, and the death of the PT treasurer Marcelo Arruda, who was murdered by the correctional officer Jorge Garanho, a supporter of President Jair Bolsonaro. In addition, these posts associated Bolsonaro with a long list of crimes, turning him into a major motivator of illicit actions. The publications claimed that the secrecy on the president’s vaccination card and the corporate card he used, the meeting with pastors, and Genivaldo’s death by asphyxiation were “crime concealment”. The messages on the platform also accused the support group of the previous administration, particularly Carla Zambelli (PL-SP) and Jorginho Mello(PL-SC), of being involved in criminal schemes linked to the PCC, calling this alleged participation the “Amazon mafia” and the “crime bench”.

Right wing – 43.08% of profiles | 53.22% of interactions
Driven by the profile of the then candidate for re-election Jair Bolsonaro and by journalists, bloggers and conservative influencers, this group focused on praising the achievements of the police force (such as the BOPE, the State Secretariat for the Military Police, and the Federal Police) and publicizing alleged record lows in homicides, violent crime and drug apprehensions. The posts also blamed the left wing (mentioning Lula) for supporting crime and drug trafficking, for despising the law and crime victims, and for demonizing the police. The messages also lamented alleged gaps in the Brazilian Constitution, supporting stricter punishments such as life imprisonment for crimes against children. In addition, several posts spoke out against abortion and spread information about the alleged relationship between the PT and the PCC.

Third way ‒ 6.24% of profiles | 3.57% of interactions
Group mobilized by profiles of alternative media channels and by third-way politicians, such as the profile of Ciro Gomes, commenting on alleged illegal actions committed by presidential candidates Lula and Bolsonaro. Highlighting Lula’s statement during an event in Maceió, in which he stated that he had sought out Renan Calheiros and Fernando Henrique Cardoso to free the kidnappers of Abílio Diniz from prison, the posts criticized the Lula’s position and emphasized the narrative that Lula and the PT are either involved in crimes or protecting criminals. Regarding the presidential hopeful Jair Bolsonaro, the posts pointed out that the Brazilian president has possibly committed numerous impeachable offenses, with legal measures needed to remove him from the office of the Presidency of the Republic. However, the posts drew attention to the fact that the presence of the Speaker of the House, Arthur Lira (PP-AL), would potentially slow the progress of an impeachment request.

Figure 2 - Major tweets per group in the debate about violence/crime and presidential candidates
Period: May 1 to July 18, 2022

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

. Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

2) Topic Debate

Figure 3 - Evolution of subtopics related to security in the debate about the elections on Twitter
Period: May 1 to July 18, 2022

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

. Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

The debate on violence/crime was predominant throughout the period among the subtopics related to security, seeing an increase of more than 100% in the volume of mentions. The increase in the debate on violence/crime was strongly associated with the mobilization of profiles supporting Bolsonaro, who criticized and commented on statements made by Lula about his participation in the negotiations for the release of entrepreneur Abílio Diniz in relation to a kidnapping that took place in 1989.

The case reinforces the association of the Workers’ Party with the criminal faction PCC, which was complemented by remembrance of the death of the former mayor of Santo André, Celso Daniel, and by a news story published by the magazine Veja containing an excerpt from the report by Marcos Valério, in which the businessman stated that the party and the faction maintain close relations.

In turn, the government also drove the growth of the topic with reports of crimes involving the former minister for Education, Milton Ribeiro, and the former president of Caixa, Pedro Guimarães; Ribeiro was accused of participating in a corruption scheme at the Ministry of Education (MEC), based on the diversion of federal funds originally intended for education. The former president of the bank Caixa Econômica Federal, Pedro Guimarães, was accused of sexual and moral harassment after bank employees filed complaints with the Federal Prosecution Office.

Corruption, which has been a topic of great impact on national politics at least since the Operation Car Wash, was only the third most relevant subtopic in the debate on security and the elections. In the first months of 2022, the topic only surpassed the debate on security forces in March.

The debate on security forces, in turn, was strongly associated with investigations by the Federal Police against President Jair Bolsonaro and with the presence of the Armed Forces in the debate on electoral mistrust; Remarkably, there was a very low volume of debate on public security policies. The few mentions to the topic suggest that the debate on security was primarily organized with a conflictive tone and without space for the construction of a substantive debate on the programs and government proposals of the presidential hopefuls.


3) Associations with presidential candidates

Figure 4 - Association of presidential candidates with the debate about violence/crime
Period: May 1 to July 18, 2022

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

. Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

The association of presidential candidates with the debate on violence/crime remained stable in the first half of 2022 and grew from June onwards, with the intensification of the political dispute. President Jair Bolsonaro had a higher level of association until the month of May, but changed positions with Lula in June. Bolsonaro was associated with militias, deaths from covid-19, crimes of malfeasance and corruption, and statements in favor of gun carry.

In June and July, when the associations increased, there were posts from users blaming the then president for the murder of Bruno Pereira, Dom Phillips, and PT supporter Marcelo Arruda, as well as reports against then members of the federal government, such as Pedro Guimarães and Milton Ribeiro. Statements made by the president and his supporters linking the presidential hopeful Lula to drug trafficking, the PCC and the murder of Celso Daniel also stood out in the messages.

During the first half of the year, Lula’s associations with the debate on violence/crime were related to corruption scandals and criticism claiming that Lula defends criminals, the legalization of abortion and drug liberation. In June, Lula surpassed Bolsonaro in volume of mentions after a statement made by the former about the kidnapping of Abílio Diniz and by reports published in the press and on social networks that associated Lula with the murder of Celso Daniel and the PCC. In June, the debate on crime associated with Lula continued to grow, with emphasis on posts that associated him with the PCC and that criticize Supreme Court Minister Alexandre de Moraes and the press, which were allegedly hiding this relationship between the PT and drug trafficking in Latin America.

The presidential hopefuls Ciro Gomes, Simone Tebet and André Janones also maintained a stable association that followed the volume of the debate on violence/crime. The debate associated with Ciro Gomes was focused on comparisons made by his supporters between Bolsonaro and Lula. Simone Tebet and André Janones stood out in the debate due to their work in the National Congress.

Figure 5 - Word cloud of the debate about violence/crime in association with Lula
Period: May 1 to July 18, 2022

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

. Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

Reports linking Lula to corruption were the main topics of the debate on violence/crime associated with the presidential hopeful between January and March, 2022. Users talked about corruption schemes in PT administrations, allegations of money laundering and criminal organizations involving Lula’s attorney, and commented on a statement made by President Jair Bolsonaro saying that Lula wants to “return to the crime scene” through the presidential elections.

Between April and July, the association of PT with corruption decreased and the terms money laundering and crime scene were more related to reports associating Lula with drug trafficking and organized crime;

The association between Lula and organized crime gained strength between April and July, after Lula’s former accountant was investigated for money laundering for the PCC; a denunciation by Marcos Valério that associated the PT to the PCC (mentioned above in a report by Veja), and the assassination of Celso Daniel, which was ordered by Lula according to Valério; and statements by Lula saying that he asked Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Renan Calheiros to release Abílio Diniz’s kidnappers from prison.

While there had been associations of Lula with the murder of Celso Daniel since the beginning of the year, driven by a statement by President Jair Bolsonaro on the subject, his association with organized crime became the main topic of debate in the second semester.

Lula’s association with the legal system also changed between the two analyzed periods. Between January and March, the Brazilian legal system was criticized for decisions that favored Lula in cases related to Operation Car Wash. Between April and July, the criticism targeted Minister Alexandre de Moraes for decisions against President Bolsonaro, which could favor Lula.
The main highlight of the criticism targeting the minister was related to the decision for pro-Bolsonaro congressman to remove posts associating Lula with the PCC.

Figure 6 - Word cloud of the debate about violence/crime in association with Lula
Period: May 1 to July 18, 2022

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

. Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

Supreme Court Minister Alexandre Moraes was criticized in the period from January to March for investigating President Bolsonaro for disclosing classified information and spreading fake news. Bolsonaro’s followers accused the minister of rigging the Federal Police and claimed that he did not commit a crime.

Between April and July, Alexandre Moraes continued to be associated with Bolsonaro due to his actions against fake news and disinformation in the elections and for the lawsuit filed by the former president against the minister for abuse of authority. The request for the removal of posts associating Lula with the PCC was also criticized by Bolsonaro supporters, who claimed that the minister was part of this “gang” and was on Lula’s side.

The association of President Jair Bolsonaro with the assassination of political leaders and activists was also a highlight in both periods. Between January and April, critics of Bolsonaro organized an online action claiming that he ordered the death of city councilor Marielle Franco (PSOL-RJ), murdered in 2018, and remembered the case. In this period, Bolsonaro’s supporters also questioned who would have ordered Bolsonaro killed, referring to the knife attack he suffered during the 2018 presidential campaign. Between April and July 2022, references to Marielle Franco and the knife attack remained in the spotlight, but Bolsonaro was also indirectly blamed for the deaths of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira.

The murder of PT supporter Marcelo Arruda by a police officer and Bolsonaro supporter in Foz do Iguaçu (PR) was also mentioned in the debate on crime/violence associated with President Jair Bolsonaro between April and July. Statements made by the then president were remembered and used by users to say that Bolsonaro incites violence, arguing that the crime was politically motivated. Bolsonaro was also accused of taking advantage of a conversation with the victim’s family to promote himself.


4) Major Links

Figure 7 - Major links in the debate about violence/crime in association with Lula
Period: May 1 to July 18, 2022

Source: Facebook | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

. Source: Facebook | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

The major links related to violence/crime and presidential candidates on Facebook had a strong presence of the right-wing alternative media outlet Jornal da Cidade Online. Over the year, the channel occupied the first positions in volume of engagement in the first six months of 2022, which is an indication of the ability of the right-wing field to build narratives on the subject in moments of less discussion in the wider public.

The analysis of links on Facebook corroborates the transition observed in the word cloud analysis, with the predominance of associations between the PT and corruption in the first months of the year and the transition to the association with criminal factions between June and July.

It is interesting to note that the negative news for the government resulted from actions, processes and facts that happened or were discovered in 2022. In other words, these are “hot” cases that emerged in the public debate and put pressure on the government, such as the Supreme Court order for Bolsonaro to testify to the Federal Police at the beginning of the year, the murder of indigenous expert Bruno Pereira and journalist Dom Phillips, in June, and the repercussions of the assassination of PT treasurer Marcelo de Arruda by a Bolsonaro supporter in July.

In turn, the negative news for the PT included facts and events related to a longer time period, such as accusations of corruption in previous administrations, suspected criminal actions in the cases of Abílio Diniz and Celso Daniel, and allegations of criminal association based on leaked excerpts from businessman Marcos Valério’s report, which took place in 2017. That is, despite the fact that, for different reasons, the events re-emerged in the news, the pressure and accusations against the PT are related to an accumulation of criticism over the years, which intensified close to the 2022 elections supported by the great capacity of mobilization and engagement of the group linked to Jair Bolsonaro in the digital debate.

However, the weight of events of great popular outcry was capable of overcoming the engagement generated by the successful campaigns promoted by right( sectors, as can be seen from the predominance of news about the murder in Foz do Iguaçu-PR in July.


3. Conclusions

The topic of corruption has been a highlight in the public debate in Brazil during electoral cycles, especially in 2018, but has now given way to discussions on violence and crime in the first half of 2022. The way the topic was approached by the right and left fields on social media such as Twitter explains the polarized nature of Brazil at the time, with the two political sides representing about 43% of the mapped profiles. Despite an apparent balance in the debate, the right showed greater potential for articulation, leading in number of interactions on the platform. This predominance was also seen on Facebook in the analysis of links in circulation.

In this dispute, associations between Lula and organized crime, particularly the PCC factions, had a far reach within the debate. The increase of this association was mapped between April and July 2022. On the other hand, former president Bolsonaro tended to be negatively associated with violence and crime since January 2022, either in posts that argued about his alleged involvement in the murder of city councilor Marielle Franco, or in claims that the then president’s statements incited and stimulated violence, as allegedly happened with the murder of PT supporter Marcelo Arruda by a pro-Bolsonaro penitentiary agent in Foz do Iguaçu (PR), in July 2022.

4. Staff

Research Coordination
Marco Aurelio Ruediger
Amaro Grassi

Mariana Carvalho
Letícia Sabatini
Victor Piaia
Sabrina Almeida
Maria Sirleidy Cordeiro
Dalby Dienstbach Hubert
Lucas Roberto da Silva
Polyana Barboza
Igor Reis

Technical Review
Renata Tomaz

Graphic Project
Daniel Almada
Luis Gomes


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