Digital Democracy

Digitalization and the Public Sphere in Brazil

The Attack on Democracy on January 8 and its Repercussion

Narrative disputes around the antidemocratic protests in online platforms

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1. Executive Summary

Abstract:

This report addresses the digital public debate regarding the antidemocratic protests of January 8 in Brasília. The analysis on Twitter enabled a dissection of the network of interactions around the episode and an understanding of how the debate on the topic developed, focusing on discussions about interventionism and security forces. There was also a monitoring analysis on Telegram, including public groups aligned with former President Jair Bolsonaro and, to some extent, the antidemocratic protests, indicating the narratives and arguments circulating in these spaces. In general, there was a strong mobilization of the progressive sector to repudiate the demonstrations and connect them to Bolsonaro.

 

Keywords:
January 8; attack on democracy; online mobilization

 

Summary of Results

  • Following an initially negative repercussion, profiles favorable to the coup attempt established a narrative according to which there were “infiltrated members” of the left in the attacks against the Three Branches in Brasília, especially within mobile app groups.
  • There was uncertainty and dismay in public groups supporting Bolsonaro on Telegram after the dismantling of the protest encampments.
  • Some bolsonarist profiles demanded military intervention and continued to emphasize a “war” narrative, claiming they had international support for the coup attempt and the “impeachment of the Three Branches”.
  • Minister of Justice Flávio Dino had the most mentions in publications related to the episode on Twitter, with internet users mobilizing to help him identify those responsible for the attack.

2. Results and Discussion

1) Interactions

Figure 1 – Map of interactions in the debate about unconstitutional acts on Twitter
Period: January 8 at 2pm to January 9 at 2pm, 2023

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

. Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

Left wing (Red) – 42.4% of profiles | 51.5% of interactions
Group formed by politicians, influencers and pages associated with the left, such as Lula, Felipe Neto, and the entertainment profile Choquei, who commented on the antidemocratic acts on Sunday (8) and posted messages supporting democracy. The group highlighted the omission of the Federal District Government and the security forces, who failed to contain the protesters invading the Ministries Esplanade, holding Governor Ibaneis Rocha accountable for the incident. Profiles in the group also posted images of the violence and destruction of property caused by the protesters, demanding that those involved be held accountable. The highlights in the group were the messages published by Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes and by French President Emmanuel Macron denouncing the unconstitutional acts, as well as publications made by Lula emphasizing the importance of unity between the Three Branches and the state governments in the face of the attacks.

Right wing (Blue) – 22.4% of profiles | 31.2% of interactions
Group composed of former President Jair Bolsonaro’s supporters and profiles that were mostly favorable to the protests in Brasília. The highlights in the group were the entrepreneur and alleged supporter of the antidemocratic acts, Paulo Generoso, and Bolsonaro himself. There was an inversion of narratives in the group, with tweets claiming that the Supreme Court, the Superior Electoral Court and the PT were the “real coup instigators”. From that point of view, the “people” were simply reacting to electoral fraud. There was an attempt to blame the left for the depredation of property, with users arguing that those responsible for the “mayhem” were “infiltrated members of the PT”.

Users opposed to the January 8 protests (Orange) – 27.9% of profiles | 14.9% of interactions
Group formed by progressive profiles opposed to the antidemocratic protests in Brasília, including influencers such as Gustavo Stockler and Gil do Vigor. The group criticized the way the police dealt with the protesters, claiming police officers connived with the protests and remembering episodes of police brutality in other demonstrations, particularly those involving students and teachers. The highlights also included ironic tweets claiming that the protesters were not patriots, Christians or “good citizens”.

2) Topic Debate

Figure 2 – Evolution of the debate about interventionism related to the unconstitutional acts on Twitter
Period: January 8 at 2pm to January 9 at 2pm, 2023

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

. Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

The debate on interventionism subsided on the day after the antidemocratic acts, when it had reached 81 thousand mentions and President Lula announced a federal intervention.

Most of the mentions criticized the conniving posture of the Federal District Government and supported the actions of the Federal Government. The profiles blamed the former Secretary of Public Security of the Federal District, Anderson Torres, as well as Governor Ibaneis Rocha, and praised the federal intervention decree announced by Lula. Another highlight was the posture of Minister Flávio Dino; however, users also posted alerts about the possibility of the Armed Forces protecting the protest encampment in Brasília.

To a lesser extent, some of the profiles claimed that infiltrated members acted in a deliberate and violent way during the invasion of the Esplanade so that Lula could “strengthen his dictatorship”. The group also asked the Armed Forces for help, stating that their duty it to protect Brazil based on the idea that the current government is a threat.

Figure 3 – Major terms in the debate about the security forces on Twitter
Period: January 8 at 2pm to January 9 at 2pm, 2023

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

. Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

Invaders used the event for self-promotion as “bolsonarist influencers” and gained visibility. With demands for military intervention, the messages carried the idea that the attacks marked the beginning of a “green and yellow revolution”.

Users spoke of international reinforcements for the “war” – including Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin – in favor of Bolsonaro. Radical bolsonarists claimed excitedly that a “Russian frigate with a hypersonic weapon” was on its way. Profiles boasted about having “laid siege” to the Three Branches and claimed that refineries and distributors were closing down in order to reinforce the antidemocratic movement.

Bolsonarist networks saw a spread of demands for the “simultaneous” impeachment of the President of the Republic, the presidents of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, and the Supreme Courte Justices. Instigators promoted a wide mobilization to claim that PT supporters infiltrated the attacks.

Figure 4 – Mentions to ministers of the Lula administration on Twitter
Period: January 8 at 2pm to January 9 at 2pm, 2023

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

. Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

Flávio Dino was at the center of the debate about the government’s ministerial cabinet. There were attempts to collaborate with the minister on Twitter through reports of profiles that allegedly participated in the protests in Brasília. There were expectations that Dino – as well as other government members such as Alckmin and Tebet – would take on the responsibility of punishing the protesters. Users shared statements made by Paulo Pimenta, chief minister of the Presidential Social Communication Secretariat, intensifying the criticism against the protests. There was an understanding that the protesters who destroyed the property had knowledge of the premises.

On the other hand, the progressive sector largely criticized Minister of Defense José Múcio, claiming that he is an ally of Bolsonaro. In this context, the highlights were the expression “Fora Múcio” (‘out Múcio’) and an image showing of the minister’s advisors participating in the protests. Some of Bolsonaro’s supporters criticized the General
Counsel for the Federal Government, Jorge Messias, labeling him authoritative after his office requested a series of measures to Alexandre de Moraes. Users stated that the actions of the General Counsel, especially regarding the dismissal of the Governor of the Federal District, Ibaneis Rocha, were antidemocratic.

 

3) Mobile Apps

Figure 5 – Posts about potential infiltrated members in the acts on Telegram
Date: 01/09/2023

Source: Telegram | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

. Source: Telegram | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

The negative repercussion of the acts of vandalism among the population, media outlets, and even among some of Bolsonaro’s supporters prompted the creation of a narrative claiming that members of the left infiltrated the movement. There were several reports of allegedly infiltrated protesters, emphasizing moments of vandalism. The highlight in this context was one of the leaders of the movement, the influencer Ana Priscila Azevedo, whom many Bolsonaro support groups see as an infiltrated agent. In turn, Ana Priscila used the public groups she manages to defend herself from these claims and state that the left was able to divide the right.

Figure 6 – Posts expressing uncertainty and dismay regarding the next steps of the movement on Telegram
Date: 01/09/2023

Source: Telegram | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

. Source: Telegram | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

After a wave of publications questioning the acts of vandalism and accusing the left of inciting them through allegedly infiltrated protesters, the publications in the morning of January 9 expressed dismay and uncertainty regarding the movement. Posts containing self-criticism messages stood out, with users claiming they “fell into a trap” and wondering what to do after the dismantling of the protest encampments.

3. Conclusions

This study of the antidemocratic acts in Brasília happened during the period of intense discussion about the topic, which enabled an understanding of how each political sector reacted and articulated itself during the event. There was a predominance of progressive profiles in the discussion, which strongly opposed the protests. Together, these groups accounted for around 70.3% of the profiles and 66.4% of the interactions.

There was a similar predominance in the topic debate, where the criticism of the Federal District Government – particularly the former Secretary of Public Security of the Federal District, Anderson Torres, and Governor Ibaneis Rocha – stood out. Users also praised the federal government, especially the federal intervention decree announced by Lula and the fast response by the Minister of Justice, Flávio Dino.

In general, the monitoring analysis found that the far right expressed a tone of defeat in the digital public debate on Twitter on January 8 and 9, 2023. This also happened on Telegram in public groups aligned with Jair Bolsonaro. The main strategy in these groups was the attempt to disconnect the right from the protests, blaming “left-wing infiltrated agents” for allegedly causing mayhem in an otherwise peaceful demonstration. With that, users in these groups started questioning the mobilizations against the result of the 2022 elections.

4. Staff

Research Coordination
Marco Aurelio Ruediger
Amaro Grassi

Researchers
Letícia Sabbatini
Renato Contente
Sabrina Almeida
Victor Piaia
Mariana Carvalho
Maria Sirleidy Cordeiro
Dalby Dienstbach Hubert
Neubiana Beilke
Lucas Roberto da Silva
Polyana Barboza
Carlos Cardoso Dias
Thaís Rabello

Technical Review
Renata Tomaz

Graphic Project
Daniel Almada
Luis Gomes

 

 

 

 

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