This study investigates the circulation of content that incites the public to believe in the existence of ballot fraud and election manipulation in Brazil on Facebook and Youtube between 2014 and 2020. The analysis is based on a corpus of 103,542 posts with links in Portuguese on both platforms. Our goal is to provide a documentation on the history of narratives that feed disinformation processes regarding the electoral system in Brazil. In general terms, the research has shown that this discursive production follows the trend of peaks of circulation of URLs in election years, but persists during non-election years thanks to a verified potential of engagement. Given the harmful effects of the publication of fraudulent statements, among which we highlight questioning the legitimacy of processes that are fundamental to the health of democracy, this document focuses on digital engineering and electoral mistrust. In this context, this study is part of contemporary discussion both inside and outside Brazil, which has mobilized multiple actors aligned with the maintenance of mechanisms that sustain democratic regimes, beliefs and institutions.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS
- Posts and URLs on the alleged existence of ballot fraud and election manipulation in Brazil are becoming increasingly numerous on Facebook and YouTube. The circulation of publications about these topics has increased steadily in years between elections (2015, 2017 and 2019), in general election years (2014 and 2018), and in municipal election years (2016 and 2020).
- As expected, the frequency of messages about mistrust in the electoral system was exponentially higher in 2018, but 2020 has already become the second year with the most content of this type. Putting together the reports and suspicions of manipulation of vote counting by the electronic ballot in 2018, we highlight links with calls to action, using official instruments of public consultation of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.
- In seven years, we identified 337,204 publications that raised suspicions about the legitimacy of Brazilian elections. Most of them, 335,169, were located on Facebook and added up to 16,107,846 interactions. The rest were 2,035 posts on YouTube, with 23,807,390 views. The YouTube statistic is more representative of the reach of these messages because it consists of everyone who watched the content, not only those who interacted with it through reactions, comments or shares. This demonstrates that the reach of the message on Facebook was higher than the data obtained through the statistics in this platform.
- Some of the most popular links that spread online are repeated in different years. The most shared link was published in 2016, but reached a higher level of engagement in 2019. A significant portion consists of hyperpartisanized channels and pages.
- In 2020, the most shared links were also republications of old content that is easily accessible online. That does not mean that there is no new content in the topics analyzed. In this municipal election year, the page Jornal da Cidade Online alone hosted six of the new links that are among those most frequently shared.