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“It happened in brazil too”: the radical right’s capture of networks of hope

Camilo Negri, Rebecca Lemos Igreja et Simone Rodrigues Pinto
p. 17-38
Traduction(s) :
“Aconteceu também no Brasil”: a captura das redes de esperança pela extrema direita

Texte intégral


  • 1 Olavo de Carvalho, writer and youtuber, has become Bolsonaro Family’s public intellectual reference (...)

1“It happened in brazil too”. This is how, rather emphatically, Manuel Castells begins his afterword to the Brazilian edition of his book, “Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age”, first published in 2013. Even if explicitly uncertain of the possible results of that year’s demonstrations occurring in Brazil, the sociologist identifies digital networks as creating autonomy and providing a path from individuals’ hope to outrage. In that moment, a mass of disperse individuals rioted against the state presenting a diffuse agenda of dissatisfactions combined with a broad rejection of political society and democratic institutions. Few would have been able to identify that, in five years’ time, the awoken mass would lead Brazil to a government mainly composed of “olavistas”1, members of the military, and evangelical churches. Even less so a government led by an inexperienced family of professional politicians of radical right-wing ideology that was, up to that point, inexpressive in the political scenario.

2Despite its enduring pertinence, Castell’s phrase currently describes another phenomenon. Much like the United States of America’s experience with the insurgence against financial capitalism as represented by Occupy Wall Street between 2011 and 2016, and the election of the eccentric billionaire Donald Trump, it happened too in Brazil that networks of hope were captured by their most conservative antithesis in a space of five years. This is no coincidence, since the Brazilian president shows equally eccentric behaviors and has made strategic use of services such as Facebook and Twitter in a similar manner to the US president he so firmly supports.

3It did not happen, however, only in Brazil. The right-wing’s authoritarian populism [Norris; Inglehart, 2019] rose in many societies around the world [Mudde, 2016]. The phenomenon’s global dimension makes room for reflections concerning its macrostructural characteristics, such as political responses to capitalist crises [Mccarty; Poole; Rosenthal, 2006], conditions of revolt against liberal democracy [Eatwell; Goodwin, 2018], the insurgence against the silent revolution promoted by post-materialistic values [Inglehart; Norris, 2016; Ignazi, 2017] or the impact of new communication technologies in democracy [Gainous; Wagner, 2014].

  • 2 Founded in 1994, the PSL was created with a proposal of a cultural and economic liberalism and rema (...)

4This chronicle presents broad data on the Liberal Social Party’s (PSL2) Jair Messias Bolsonaro’s ascent on social networks and details a few of the contents produced by him, helping us understand the ideological changes in Brazil in the last 5 years. It also helps us understand the contents that made it possible for the authoritarian neoliberal right to capture digital networks [Kitschelt; Mcgann, 1995] during the year of 2018 and beginning of 2019. Due to the dissemination of its political use, social networks and WhatsApp group chats have become the most competitive means for hegemonic dispute [Gramsci, 2000] and, therefore, a significant source of data on political ideologies.

5Starting at 2013, Bolsonaro built a robust network of engaged followers that directly contributed to his election. His communication with his followers, however, intensified during the electoral period. Between December 26, 2017 and May 28, 2019, there were 2,732 posts to Bolsonaro’s Twitter profile3. The large quantity of content is analyzed here with a specific purpose: identifying the ideological meaning of the association between the Left and education.

6The ideological resignification promoted by the future president is constantly based on the rejection of the Left as revealed in his criticism of institutions, social groups, ideas and values. Much like what happens with the sciences, the arts, the press, political parties, unions and social movements; education, particularly higher education, has been a frequent target of this kind of criticism. This article, therefore, identifies the ideological meanings attributed to the Left and which connections between the Left and education are established by Bolsonaro and his government.

  • 4 When asked about his propositions, Bolsonaro frequently replied with the catchphrase “change everyt (...)

7The data indicates that derision and mockery were frequently used on social media based on follower interaction, especially when referring to the Left, its themes, representatives and activists. Many followers, seduced by the radical rejection of “everything that is out there4” represented by Bolsonaro, intensified the production and sharing of political content, contributing to the ideological polarization.

  • 5 Speeches were given between January 1st and May 16th, 2019, and interviews were given between Janua (...)
  • 6 The same document was presented at both presidential electoral turns and obtained at the Superior E (...)

8The feeling of an ideological internal war transformed the electoral period in a purging ritual of national political vices. However, mediated by the internet, the process was operationalized in terms of caricatures, memes and fake news. Constituted as a simulacrum of social and political life, the electoral period allowed for the cathartic simulation of purging, its most strict and grotesque representation. In the first months of the government, besides Twitter, we have analyzed 59 presidential speeches, 30 official interviews5 and the Government Program called Project Phoenix6. As president, Bolsonaro maintains a communication standard similar to the electoral period, although with increased criticism of the Federal Higher Education System.

Bolsonaro’s ascent in retrospect: conquering the networks

9In June 2013, student demonstrations against bus fares’ raises promoted in multiple cities since the year before became showcases of the masses’ discontent. The events, known as the “June Journeys”, depicted the latent ideological polarization in Brazil and revealed a lack of direction so that the masses’ ideological preferences could converge and manifest themselves. More than that, they pointed to the importance of new media for the electoral dispute, since individuals organized participation in the protests through social networks and instant communication apps.

10Even if the demonstrations were ideologically heterogeneous and presented a diverse agenda, institutions, governments, politicians and mass media outlets were amongst protester’s targets. Despite some caveats and criticism, they received the support of most of the population7. In other words, despite the lack of direct promotion by traditional entities such as political parties, unions or social movements, the previously disperse individuals—without secondary groups [Kornhauser, 2008]—were mobilized and took part in the demonstrations, rejecting categorically traditional political actors. New media made then possible to regiment the mass even without the support of communication vehicles and traditional institutions.

  • 8 With Dilma’s removal in May 2016, due to the dubious impeachment process, akin to a coup d’état, Vi (...)

11In the five following years, certain events distanced voters even further from left-wing political parties: the Lava-Jato Operation (Car Wash Operation), which started in 2014, Dilma’s reelection in that same year, her removal and eventual impeachment in 2016, the deepening of the economic crisis and the arrest of former President Lula in 2018, to name a few. The awoken Right used these events as critical vectors to invigorate its discourse and target voters. Benefitting from the radically anti-left scenario and the ideological reconfiguration put in motion by Michel Temer’s8 government, the Right conquered the digital world by way of proliferating websites, social network communities and, above all, the generation of digital influencers or youtubers.

12This interface with the digital world contributed to the reconfiguration of the Right and the creation of organizations in many different ideological hues, such as the Free Brazil Movement (MBL, in Portuguese), the Millenium Institute, the Liberal Institute and the Mises Institute Brazil. These organizations quickly gained popularity on social media9. The conversion to communication patterns that dawned with new digital medias10, particularly Youtube, amplified the impact of the rights. It also allowed for the convergence in ideologically oriented content, by creating production networks and disseminating internet content. The network was perfected, and came to include artists, businessmen, known and unknown figures. The traditional Right renamed its political parties, new acronyms surfaced and were rebranded by the press as the “new Right”. Ideologically aligned candidates presented themselves and were received by voters as outsiders, even if, like Bolsonaro, they were not always far from traditional politics. Thus, in 2013, the Right begun its digital conversion pragmatically. Among the many involved, Bolsonaro was the one who followed this procedure most efficiently.

13Bolsonaro, a congressman since 1991, was skilled in hoarding voters’ discontent with democratic institutions and professional politicians and in unifying the outraged masses, formed by groups with contradictory ideological characteristics, around his own candidacy. His old strategy of media setting by way of disrespectful provocations, exaggerations, simplifications converted him into an avatar of outrage and positioned him as a guide to the content that gave meaning to the ideological spectrum during the 2018 elections. As illustrated by a tweet published on July 5, 2018, Bolsonaro guided the discontent, defining the Left’s characteristics and encouraging the dispute through available means: “the politically correct is a tactic used by the Left to do what they always did in countries in which they implemented their power plan: to their allies everything, to their adversaries the gallows, and to the people muzzles, control and nothing else”.

14Both Left and Right began orbiting around content presented by the candidate. The meanings associated with the ideological spectrum started to have the extreme Right as its gravitational center, meaning radical positions and little malleability towards democratic dialogue. Three elements in Bolsonaro’s speeches and actions were determinant to his electoral victory. They are: the characterization elaborated by Bolsonaro of what the establishment would be (frequently identified with categories such as Left, communists, political correctness, corruption and immoralities); his self-representation as the only anti-establishment candidate (pro-austerity, honest and unaligned with the traditional political formalities); and the domination of social networks as a means of building these meanings (colloquial language, informal behavior, face-to-face interactions with the voters).

The virtual trajectory

15Bolsonaro joined Twitter in March 2010. His first posts were on March 31, during the debates surrounding the 46th anniversary of the 1964 Civilian-Military Coup. The first tweet of the then-congressman, however, was directed at one of his colleagues, Chico Alencar, from the Socialism and Liberty Party (Psol in Portuguese). It said “Good night to all @depchicolanecar @reportercrime”, published at 6:33pm. Members of the Congress had scheduled a debate about the 1964 military coup at the same time, mediated by journalist Jorge Antonio Barros (@reporterdecrime). This strange first message on what would become his main channel of communication was corrected in a new tweet, two minutes after the first one: “My apologies, good evening @depchicoalencar @reportercrime”. After correcting the name and keeping the interlocutor, Bolsonaro begins, at 6:43pm, a series of 24 tweets dedicated to defending what he calls the Revolution of 64, using the hashtag “debate64” created by the journalist.

  • 11 Extensively used by Bolsonaro and his supporters, the expression “gay kit” is related to the accusa (...)

16In the following year, Bolsonaro published only one tweet in which he said it was impossible to update his Twitter account and informing that his sons’ profiles in the social network would be used to convey his ideas. In 2012, despite being a year away from municipal elections, he tweeted only 12 times. Most of those were promoting his son as a municipal legislative candidate to Rio de Janeiro. Some were criticizing, for the first time, the “gay kit”, an agenda created by Bolsonaro, as well as some elements of what part of the Right called gender ideology11. Much like what happened to his defense of the military regime, the fear of the gender ideology populated the conservative political imaginary during the elections. In that sense, on June 14, 2012, Bolsonaro tweeted the message “God save our children.​M8ulSp” and, on July 23, 2012, two messages: “Be frightened parents: See the content of the gay kit that has already arrived in elementary schools in Brazil​NrvECG” and “Beware parents: See the content of the gay kit that just arrived at private schools 4 the kids​NPmVGd”.

17The year 2013 marks the broad recognition of the relevance and political potential of new communication technologies in Brazil (particularly WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter). The first result of this massive use occurred during the June 2013 demonstrations, and its impact on politics professionals was uncontrollable. As seen above, Bolsonaro did not interact on social networks. He created his official Facebook account on June 14, 2013, publishing 97 posts that year. Besides that, he reactivated his Twitter account with 100 publications and posted his first self-image in a tweet from October 23 (photo 1), along with the following message: “House of Representatives dismisses representation against Bolsonaro for showing poster to gay activists” and subtitled “Committee on human rights: They tried to stop the meeting, cursed, threatened, and soon enough got their answer”. The image illustrates a recurring pattern of behavior in Bolsonaro’s public interventions and virtual interactions. Provocations and mockery against minorities caught the network users’ attention and positively affected the dissemination of content through social networks.

Photo 1. First Twitter self-image (2013)

Photo 1. First Twitter self-image (2013)

Source: Twitter. Translation: “Cornholing every day”

18Since 2013, Bolsonaro incorporated Twitter into his communication strategy. It was only in 2015, however, that he started systematically amplifying his interactions through the digital platform. Graphic 1 shows the constant evolution in Bolsonaro’s published tweets quantity from the creation of his account until the end of 2018. As may be observed, in the electoral years of 2016 and 2018 there were significant increases in the content he produced. Bolsonaro’s electoral growth (table 1), in 2014, if unrelated to his digital conversion, illustrates his popularization and political recognition. As observed, in 2010 he obtained 120,646 votes for congressman representing the state of Rio de Janeiro. In 2014, he obtained 464,572 for the same office.

  • 12 Considering only Bolsonaro’s tweets and excluding retweets.

Graphic 1. Bolsonaro’s annual tweet evolution12

Graphic 1. Bolsonaro’s annual tweet evolution12

Table 1. Bolsonaro’s electoral results








1ª Campanha Dep. Federal RJ




























1o Turno = 46,03% dos votos válidos




+ 17% = 55,13% dos votos válidos

Source: The authors. Data from the Superior Electoral Court.

19The present text focuses on the general content created in 2018 and 2019, period in which the media reflects Bolsonaro’s electoral engagement and the first months of his government. If in the first years of use, the future president generated little content in his social media, in 2017 he used them constantly and was considered their most influential Brazilian politician13. As we may observe in table 2, in 2017 Bolsonaro had the most followers on Facebook and Instagram, keeping his position during the pre-electoral period.

  • 14 Marina Silva was a Congresswoman, Senator and Minister for the Environment during Lula’s first gove (...)

20Marina Silva14, frequently accused of being absent from national politics, displayed unbeatable marks on Twitter. In that sense, in a tweet from December 27, 2017, Bolsonaro highlighted the importance of the platform, saying that “the terrain in which there are the most leftists in action is Twitter. People who think differently from them must mobilize and oppose them with the truth on this social network. Their ideas must be fought in all fields. Certainly, the tables will turn and soon they will get there!”. During the electoral period, Bolsonaro showed a significant growth in number of followers on Twitter and reached second position, well above the third place. If, on the one hand, numbers do not accurately represent the number of followers, as researches [Arnaudo, 2017; Lago; Massaro; Cruz, 2018] have shown that every presidential candidate used fake followers (robots or bots), on the other hand, they indicate an investment from the campaign to promote the candidates’ network impact.

Table 2. Followers evolution on social media (2017-2018)

Twitter (rank)




Marina Silva (1)




Geraldo Alckmin (3)




Jair Bolsonaro (2)




Lula (4)




Ciro (5)








Facebook (rank)




Marina Silva (3)




Geraldo Alckmin (4)




Jair Bolsonaro (1)




Lula (2)




Ciro (5)








Instagram (rank)




Marina Silva (5)




Geraldo Alckmin (4)




Jair Bolsonaro (1)




Lula (2)




Ciro (3)








Source: The authors with data from

21In 2017, Bolsonaro’s radical opinions and unconventional attitudes were abundantly alluded to by popular humoristic programs and sparked rage among social movements. Bolsonaro went viral almost as a caricature of the politically incorrect, incorporating traits identified by his parodists when composing his public image15. Thus, his opposition to the politically correct, his military-inspired and exaggerated vocabulary, and the conservative attacks on minorities (black people, women, LGBTQ+, indigenous, homeless, land-less, etc.) gained a layer of legitimacy. This was sustained by his acquired charisma and familiarity. The dubiousness confusing humor, sincerity and radical outrage contributed to Bolsonaro’s transformation from a congressman who was unknown to most voters and considered electorally inviable into one of the most commented characters in the media. According to data from Google Trends, Bolsonaro was the main theme of the Brazilian 2018 elections. As observed below, the interest in the candidate on the search engine broadly surpassed that of all other presidential candidates.

Graphic 3 - Evolution of searches for presidential candidates on Google

Graphic 3 - Evolution of searches for presidential candidates on Google
  • 16 Available at 100 is the most searches reached by a candidate in a week.

Source: The authors. Data from Google Trends16

22Numerous researches [Tsou et al., 2013; Leavitt et al., 2018; Freelon; Karpf, 2015] show the positive effect of humor, be it scathing, sharp, cynical, sarcastic, infamous or bizarre, such as that used by Donald Trump when sharing political content on social media. Videos, cartoons, memes, caricatures, montages and everything else users’ and marketers’ creativity allowed for were used during the Brazilian elections, infinitely amplifying the iconographic repertoire of national politics. Images 1 and 2 illustrate the ideological content frequently used on Bolsonaro’s social media postings, as well as their preferential target and characteristic humor. During the electoral period, thus, the pattern of meanings that marked Bolsonaro’s social media were maintained and deepened.

Image 1. Representation of the left

Image 1. Representation of the left

Source: Google.

Image 2. Bolsonaro against communism

Image 2. Bolsonaro against communism

Source: Google.

The Left’s Education: analyzing speeches from the electoral period and first months of government

  • 17 Messages made up only of shortened links or that had no text (e.g. images or videos) and content as (...)

23Of the 2,732 tweets and retweets, 1,796 were published or shared in 2018 and 912 between January and May 2019. Altogether, 240 tweets were coded as being about the Left, 74 about education17 and 27 linked directly to both. The other documents that make up the analysis (speeches, presidential interviews and the government’s electoral program) showed 68 mentions to the Left, 75 to education and 29 linking both themes. Below, graphic 4 shows the monthly distribution of Bolsonaro’s Twitter activities. Graphics 5 and 6 show the monthly distribution of references to the Left and to education on Twitter and in the president’s speeches and official interviews, respectively.

Graphic 4. Bolsonaro’s monthly distribution of tweets and retweets

Graphic 4. Bolsonaro’s monthly distribution of tweets and retweets

Source: authors. Data from Twitter.

Graphic 5. Monthly distribution of tweets and retweets about the Left and education

Graphic 5. Monthly distribution of tweets and retweets about the Left and education

Source: authors. Data from Twitter.

Graphic 6. Monthly distribution of Left and education in official documents

Graphic 6. Monthly distribution of Left and education in official documents

24As could be expected, there is a significant increase in original and shared posts during the month of October 2018, which also reflects an increase in the quantity of anti-Left content. If in the usual months analyzed the quantity of anti-Left posts ranged from 7 to 18 a month, during October there were 62 posts. The relevance in considering the number of messages can be illustrated by the comparison between two terms heavily used in Bolsonaro’s Twitter. While the word “God”, present in the campaign’s slogan “Brazil above all, God above everyone”, appears 73 times in Bolsonaro’s Twitter, the initials PT (Workers’ Party) alone appear 101 times. Education has a small presence on Twitter. However, it gains visibility after the elections, particularly in official speeches. Its correlation with the Left starts being reinforced. In the government’s program, however, the situation is reversed and mentions to education surpass mentions to the Left.

25When analyzing meaning, discursive content associated with the Left and education were coded into 13 categories as shown in table 3, reflecting the most common meanings associated with the analyzed themes. The configuration of meanings and its monthly distribution can be observed in graph 6, which distributes percentage-wise every meaning associated to the Left and to education by month. The predominance of antipolitics, the association with corruption and education are noteworthy.

Table 3. Main categories of meaning associated with the Left and education



1. Anti-democratic

Affirmations defending the Military Dictatorship and criticizing human rights.

2. electoral

Electoral polls, campaign schedules, promoting allies, criticizing opponents’ campaigns.

3. Moralism

Alerting society against the “gay kit” and progressive values, conservative-aligned positions legitimized by beliefs/faith in moralism.

4. Anti-left

(analitycal clipping)

All of Bolsonaro’s mentions to the Left are critical and most are associated with other categories such as anti-politics because they involve fake denunciations, corruption and indoctrination accusations, and problems in the political system that can characterize all the parties or none.

5. Anti-politics

Accusations against parties, politicians, and militants; criticism towards politicians and traditional political parties; politically oriented interpretations and, at times disconnected to reality, Fake News. Suspicions of rules and institutions, such as electronic urn frauds or obscure Judiciary interests.

6. Anti means of communication

The mainstream press’ biases.

7. Anti-minorities

Blacks, indigenous people, land-less people, women, unemployed, homeless people, immigrants.

8. Anti-culture

Artists (liberals, leftists, progressive, traditional)

9. Liberalism

Criticism towards the State and the excess of labor rights, manifestations surrounding economic policies.

10. Militarization

Liberalization of firearm possession, violence against violence, discipline.

11. Corruption

Recurring theme, frequently associated with the Left.

12. Education

(analytical clipping)

Specific theme of analysis. Usually associated with anti-Left. Under criticism of moralistic, ideological, millitarized, and liberal tones.

Source: the authors. Based on Twitter data.

26The electoral period began on August 16, 2018; the first electoral round occurred on October 7 and the second round on October 28. In the first month of campaign, Bolsonaro posted on Twitter 11 times. A large part of the themes associated with Bolsonaro’s election that also characterized his ideological position are present in an image posted on his first day of campaign, as observed in the table below. It illustrates contents that guide the resignification of the ideological spectrum, a sign of the dispute for hegemony.

Table 4. Bolsonaro’s Twitter activities on the first day of campaign







RIGGED GAME: Why does the press persecute, lie about and slander Bolsonaro only? Reflection on @Clauwild1’s column to @jornalhoraextra .​jmHAyuH4w8


Anti media



PSDB is more than ever united with PT. The narrative of polarization that they have always tried to make up is coming apart.​jxNuL4WnBS





The course of education in Brazil needs to change urgently!​dPR8zVN8YP





USA resident says why he will vote for Bolsonaro.​93KOgRBhG1





With humility, always looking to evolve and come together with people, that independently from party affiliation can help build the Brazil we believe in! Let’s move forward!​bRDK4nuiTo





Brazilians are a smiling people despite all problems and illnesses in our society. We can never lose our sense of humor, especially under pressure from political correctness.​TO4Vp0YyTX

Anti means of communication








RT @BolsonaroSP: Tomorrow I will be with @jairbolsonaro in the Sargents’ graduation from PMESP in the sambódromo of Anhembi, in São Paulo.





Brazilians now have the option of choosing a president who is FIRM AGAINST THE THUGS that terrify the population; against holidays for prisoners; in favor of FREE MARKET; against gender ideology and ideological indoctrination in schools; AGAINST DISARMAMENT.





Free of agreements with the corrupt to serve the interest of the nation and not those of political parties; against abortion; in favor of the reduction of the legal age for criminal responsability; at last, a president who is honest, patriotic and has God in his heart. LET’S CHANGE BRAZIL TOGETHER!





With Bolsonaro there really isn’t, I am no contractor!​UwDoRfaQEL



Source: the authors with Twitter data.

  • 18 Even if the use of similar expressions, referring to anal sex, is common in the Bolsonaro family sp (...)

27Contents associated to the tweets can reveal other meanings. However, in general terms, they do not differ from the patterns of criticism, opinion and values frequently seen in Bolsonaro’s posts. As observed below (image 3), the link associated with the third tweet from August 16th, the first one about education during the electoral period, reveals a moralist criticism of an expression used by public university’s students18. It also associates the youth’s behavior with the economic crisis and the country’s difficulties with development, disqualifying the institution, the educators and the students. This kind of attack on education or others, such as the ones connected to the proposal of militarization of schools or the ideological characteristic of education, is frequent.

Image 3. First tweet about education in the electoral period

Image 3. First tweet about education in the electoral period
  • 19 Popular expression meaning a difficult situation.

Caption: Academic Directory July Seventeenth: IN UFF (Fluminense Federal University). We have finger in the ass and screaming19. Integration Week of 2018.2.

Source: Twitter

28On April 11, Bolsonaro says in an official speech that “One of the guidelines of our Government is to work focusing on upholding Christian family values, quality education and refusing ideological bias”. The post points to the relation between the Left and education and between education and moralism. The first relation can be seen in other tweets, such as:

“Preparing citizens for the job market. The focus is opposite to previous governments, that purposefully invested in forming minds enslaved by ideas of socialist domination”.

“The academic environment has, over time, been massacred by the Left’s ideology that divides to conquer and praises socialism while trampling capitalism. In this context the creation of citizens is forgotten and the conquest of political militants is prioritized”.

“The globalist agenda aims at the division of classes. People divided and lacking values are easily manipulated. Changing the ‘educational’ guidelines implemented over the course of decades is one of our goals to stop the advancement of the factory of political militants so we can form citizens”.

29Liberal solutions are shown as determinants to Bolsonaro’s educational project and become more frequent from his victory onwards. As illustrated by a tweet from December 22 2018: “...Reduce the State, development without the hindrance of NGOs, bilateral agreements already in progress and to change the current poor educational current. Let’s kick off Brazil!”. In another tweet, Bolsonaro says that “in education, just like in health, the numbers bring us to the conclusion that Brazilian children and adolescents should have a much better school performance, taking into consideration the amount of resources spent”.

30Moralism, on the other hand, can be observed in images such as:

“Teaching content and methodology must be changed. More math, sciences and Portuguese, Without indoctrination and early sexualization. Besides that, the first priority must be basic education and technical/high schools”.

“Let’s defend the family, the true human rights; protect the right to life and to private property and promote an education that prepares our youth to the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution, seeking, through knowledge, to reduce poverty and misery”.

31At last, the criticism leveled against the Left shows great correlation with the anti-politics category, and secondly, with the corruption category. On the anti-politics category examples include the speech given on February 2019, in which Bolsonaro says that “This Left, as you said up there just moments ago, likes poor people so much that they multiplied them. And they sought equality from below”; and the tweet in which he accuses

“Haddad, the corrupt convict’s puppet, writes what is fashionable in anti-intellectualism in Brazil. The truth is the packed lunch, just like every petista [PT-affiliated], makes up reasons for the shameful defeat they suffered in the elections, even with a campaign that costed 30 millions more ”.

32The relationship between the Left and corruption is evident in messages such as: “Let’s put an end to PT’s robbery! Remember: our country is not a criminal faction to be governed from inside a prison!” and “Congratulations to those responsible for the capture of the terrorist Cesare Battisti! Finally justice is served to the italian assassin and partner of ideas of one of the most corrupt governments ever seen in the world (PT)”.

Graphic 7. Meanings frequently associated to the Left and to education

Graphic 7. Meanings frequently associated to the Left and to education

Source: the authors. Data from Twitter.

Final Considerations

33The dispute for hegemony [Gramsci, 1991] explicitly performed by the political group Bolsonaro represents and analyzed here through identification of ideological meanings associated to the Left and to education indicates that the Bolsonaro project, beyond the electoral simulacrum, upholds the attempt to purge the Left. The operationalization of this process happens by way of institutions, especially the ones producing information and knowledge. Depicted as dangerous institutions, the federal public universities are considered the Left’s main locus. Safeguarded by the politically correct, taken by communism and degenerated by sexual liberty, public universities are seen as part of the Left’s ideological domination framework. In a large portion of the analyzed content about education, Bolsonaro suggests that the operation of higher education public institutions would serve for one stage of the ideological indoctrination process of the Left that ultimately is reflected in basic education.

34The solution proposed and widely publicized in the first months of government was the imposition of a neoliberal ideological filter to the financing of Higher Education and Research institutions. The maintenance of the goal to eliminate the Left and reform the institutions identified as ideological State apparatuses [Althusser, 1982], during the government, has conducted official presidential speeches to the same pattern seen on Twitter during the electoral period. The meanings associated with the Left are linked to multiple national and international problems (Venezuela and Cuba are often mentioned). Even specific situations such as Bolsonaro being stabbed during the campaign are identified as the Left’s doing. Part of the Right and, according to Bolsonaro, the Military Dictatorship (the last period in which the Right would have governed) are presented as natural options for true Brazilians. Thus, to be a leftist is to be a traitor of the country, populist, corrupt or a corruption compliant, naive or a bum.

35Bolsonaro’s approach involves promoting attacks to the very notion of ideology, understood in one of its most original senses as developed by Napoleon and adopted by a young Marx, which is identified as an attempt of manipulating ideas that regard the reality in order to promote social domination [Eagleton, 1997]. As stated in a tweet from April 1 2018, “Whoever doesn’t consider the power plan and the ideology behind the corruption seen in our Brazil, is either very innocent, or has bad intentions”. This way to approach the theme demonstrated Bolsonaro’s dispute for hegemony. Unlike PT, that shifted the ideological content of its proposals, Bolsonaro was capable of resignifying the Left and associating it to the negative conception of ideology. This way, he characterized the Right as ideology in its positive or neutral sense (Weltanschauung).

36The use of exaggeration, humor and, at times, eschatology in social media (while at the same time opposing the Left’s politically correct) facilitated content diffusion. Consequently, his messages had great impact. Much like in Donald Trump’s case [Gainous; Wagner, 2014], Bolsonaro keeps the same strategy in the first nine months of his government, overloading social media and constantly bombarding the media with information.

37Even if greatly criticized, the seminal study of Kitschelt and Mcgann [1995] on the rise of the radical Right in Western Europe during the Right’s third wave in the decades of 1980 and 1990 describes the combination of neoliberal and authoritarian elements as the radical Right’s winning formula. The analyzed data, especially contents associated with the Left and education, point to Bolsonaro following that formula. Whether in declarations against the excessive spending in higher education that alledgedly does not contribute to economic growth—an example of the neoliberal perspective ) or in the attempt to eliminate institutions identified as leftist—a displayof the authoritarian positioning. There are, however, two main distinctions. The first is historical and context-based—Bolsonaro adapts his message to Brazilian political culture (with its specificities, such as the popular support of the military dictatorship, trust in the police and mistrust of politicians, for example). The second distinction is directly related to the historical moment and involves the use of social media and, consequently, a characteristic political language.

38According to Mudde [2016], there is a fourth wave of the radical Right in course, identified by its ideological malleability (even if restricted to authoritarian neoliberalism) that reflects the institutionalization of a player that was considered an outsider of the democratic game until recently. In the Brazilian case, we have yet to know if Bolsonaro will be able to consolidate the institutionalization of the radical Right and if he will need to reformulate some aspects of his ideology to guarantee such achievement. The first months of government, however, do not point to a democratic conversion of Bolsonaro’s speech. Although the Right won over most of the Brazilian Congress, the upkeep of authoritarian speeches and of criticism lacking the necessary filters of civility, officiality and morality all hinder the settlement of the far right into democratic institutions.

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Althusser Louis, 1982, Ideologia e Aparelhos Ideológicos de Estado, Lisbonne, Editorial Presença, Martins Fontes.

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1 Olavo de Carvalho, writer and youtuber, has become Bolsonaro Family’s public intellectual reference, with some sectors of government made up by his indications.

2 Founded in 1994, the PSL was created with a proposal of a cultural and economic liberalism and remained insignificant for the past 20 years. In its preparation for 2018 elections, it turned into a political party that united economic liberalism and cultural conservatism.

3 Includes tweets and retweets.

4 When asked about his propositions, Bolsonaro frequently replied with the catchphrase “change everything that is out there”.

5 Speeches were given between January 1st and May 16th, 2019, and interviews were given between January 21 and May 16 2019. Both available at the Presidency’s offical website,

6 The same document was presented at both presidential electoral turns and obtained at the Superior Electoral Court (

7 According to Ibope’s survey, done in July 2013 and available at:, about 83% of the population supported the protesters. This result is even more significant when considering the importance of “order” in Brazilian political culture (cf. and the media’s intention of criminalizing some activists.

8 With Dilma’s removal in May 2016, due to the dubious impeachment process, akin to a coup d’état, Vice-President Michel Temer took over the presidency and began implementing the neoliberal program “Bridge to the Future”, elaborated in 2015 by his party MDB (formerly the Democratic Brazilian Movement Party).

9 For a review of right-wing groups acting online see:,a-maquina-barulhenta-da-direita-na-internet,70001714254

10 The new main characters of the Right waived formalities that were characteristic of the more conservative right-wing tradition and opted for more casual costumes, less labored vocabularies, accessible language and improvised scenarios, adopting a strategy that Mutz [2015] called “in your face politics”. Among the most well-known youtubers are Nando Moura, Bernardo Küster, Diego Rox and Olavo de Carvalho. Soon after his election, Bolsonaro indicated them as reliable sources of information.

11 Extensively used by Bolsonaro and his supporters, the expression “gay kit” is related to the accusation that the teaching material supplied by the Federal Government regarding the inclusion of sexual education in primary schools was part of a plan of the Left to convert children into homosexuals.

12 Considering only Bolsonaro’s tweets and excluding retweets.

13 Published in Folha de São Paulo,

14 Marina Silva was a Congresswoman, Senator and Minister for the Environment during Lula’s first government. She left the Worker’s Party (PT in Portuguese - Lula’s party) in 2009 to run for President for the Green Party (PV, in Portuguese) in the 2010 elections. In 2014, she ran for the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB in Portuguese) and, in 2018, for the Sustainability Network Party.

15 It has been reported ( that Bolsonaro used an imitator to record audios and send them through Whatsapp during his electoral campaign.

16 Available at 100 is the most searches reached by a candidate in a week.

17 Messages made up only of shortened links or that had no text (e.g. images or videos) and content associated to links were not considered. Hence, there was a significant reduction in content.

18 Even if the use of similar expressions, referring to anal sex, is common in the Bolsonaro family speeches. The perception that there is a certain fixation when it comes to this part of the human body was featured in multiple Brazilian communication vehicles.

19 Popular expression meaning a difficult situation.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Photo 1. First Twitter self-image (2013)
Crédits Source: Twitter. Translation: “Cornholing every day”
Fichier image/jpeg, 96k
Titre Graphic 1. Bolsonaro’s annual tweet evolution12
Fichier image/png, 103k
Titre Graphic 2. History of the main polls of voting intention for presidency
Crédits Source: Ibope and Datafolha. Infographic prepared by G1 site. Available at:​politica/​eleicoes/​2018/​eleicao-em-numeros/​noticia/​2018/​10/​01/​pesquisas-ibope-e-datafolha-comparativo-da-evolucao-de-intencao-de-votos-para-presidente.ghtml
Fichier image/jpeg, 264k
Titre Graphic 3 - Evolution of searches for presidential candidates on Google
Crédits Source: The authors. Data from Google Trends16
Fichier image/png, 171k
Titre Image 1. Representation of the left
Crédits Source: Google.
Fichier image/jpeg, 68k
Titre Image 2. Bolsonaro against communism
Crédits Source: Google.
Fichier image/jpeg, 16k
Titre Graphic 4. Bolsonaro’s monthly distribution of tweets and retweets
Crédits Source: authors. Data from Twitter.
Fichier image/png, 66k
Titre Graphic 5. Monthly distribution of tweets and retweets about the Left and education
Crédits Source: authors. Data from Twitter.
Fichier image/png, 66k
Titre Graphic 6. Monthly distribution of Left and education in official documents
Fichier image/png, 18k
Titre Image 3. First tweet about education in the electoral period
Légende Caption: Academic Directory July Seventeenth: IN UFF (Fluminense Federal University). We have finger in the ass and screaming19. Integration Week of 2018.2.
Fichier image/jpeg, 108k
Titre Graphic 7. Meanings frequently associated to the Left and to education
Crédits Source: the authors. Data from Twitter.
Fichier image/png, 66k
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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Camilo Negri, Rebecca Lemos Igreja et Simone Rodrigues Pinto, « “It happened in brazil too”: the radical right’s capture of networks of hope », Cahiers des Amériques latines, 92 | 2019, 17-38.

Référence électronique

Camilo Negri, Rebecca Lemos Igreja et Simone Rodrigues Pinto, « “It happened in brazil too”: the radical right’s capture of networks of hope », Cahiers des Amériques latines [En ligne], 92 | 2019, mis en ligne le 01 avril 2020, consulté le 27 septembre 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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Camilo Negri

Camilo Negri est professeur à l’université de Brasilia (UnB), il travaille au département de Gestion des politiques publiques (GPP) et au programme d’études supérieures en études comparatives sur les Amériques. Il est chercheur collaborateur à la faculté latino-américaine des sciences sociales (Flacso), où il participe au programme du Collège latino-américain d’études mondiales. Ses thèmes de recherche sont : idéologies politiques ; démocratie ; culture politique ; et inégalités sociales.

Rebecca Lemos Igreja

Rebecca Lemos Igreja est anthropologue, professeure à l’université de Brasilia (UnB), elle travaille au département d’Études latino-américaines (ELA) et au programme d’études supérieures de la faculté de droit. Elle est chercheuse collaboratrice à la faculté latino-américaine des sciences sociales (Flacso), où elle participe au programme du Collège latino-américain d’études mondiales. Ses études portent sur la discussion des catégories sociales, ethniques et raciales ; la discrimination et le racisme ; les droits collectifs dans le cadre des politiques et droits publics ; accès à la justice et réformes judiciaires.

Articles du même auteur

Simone Rodrigues Pinto

Simone Rodrigues Pinto est professeure à l’université de Brasilia (UnB), elle travaille au département d’Études latino-américaines (ELA) et au programme d’études supérieures de la faculté de droit. Elle est chercheuse collaboratrice à la faculté latino-américaine des sciences sociales (Flacso), où elle participe au programme du Collège latino-américain d’études mondiales. Ses thèmes de recherche sont : État de droit, idéologie et constructions discursives autoritaires ; mémoire, responsabilité et justice transitionnelle ; construction nationale, migration et fabrication de l’altérité ; et philosophie et pensées politiques latino-américaines et caribéennes.

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