Amazon is a debate of the elections, but the Southeast centralizes repercussion
by Info Amazônia
Por Marcelo Soares
Updated 21 de October, 2022 at 11:01 am
InfoAmazonia and PlenaMata present an exclusive analysis of almost 700 thousand tweets on subjects related to the forest in the first week of the presidential candidates’ television appearances, with interviews on Jornal Nacional and the debate on Band having repercussions on the social networks.
The Amazon and its problems are crucial themes for the future of Brazil and the world, but they hardly appear in the electoral debate. There is a vibrant repercussion on the subject in social networks, with influencers in dialogue with institutions, authorities, scholars, journalists, and the curious. On the other side, supporters of the Bolsonaro government, among politicians, influencers, and activists, debate the issue enclosed in a bubble, with very little interlocution with the wider public.
These are the conclusions of an exclusive analysis made by InfoAmazonia and PlenaMata with almost 700,000 tweets that mentioned themes related to forest preservation – among the analyzed terms are “Amazônia” (Amazon), “desmatamento” (deforestation), “grilagem” (land grabbing), “queimadas” (fires) and “povos indígenas” (indigenous peoples).
The data was collected between August 21 and August 30, from 8 pm to midnight. In these days, the candidates for President of the Republic inaugurated the decisive phase of their campaigns by going on television to introduce themselves to the voters. Jair Bolsonaro (PL), Ciro Gomes (PDT), Lula (PT), and Simone Tebet (MDB), the top four in the polls, gave interviews to Jornal Nacional. On Sunday (28), they were accompanied by the next two best placed candidates – in fifth and sixth place – Luiz Felipe D’Ávila (Novo) and Soraya Thronicke (União Brasil), and participated in the traditional debate on Rede Bandeirantes.
According to the data collected, the repercussion has little participation from people who live in the Amazon region. “It is difficult to know the number of people who live in the Amazon and use Twitter,” ponders Jader Gama, a researcher at Fundação Escola Bosque (Funbosque), in Belém (PA). At the same time, he notes, “many people live in the Amazon but are oblivious to the environmental debate.
“Many people live in the Amazon but are oblivious to the environmental debate.
— Jader Gama, Fundação Escola Bosque
Conversations far from the forest
During the week when the candidates began to show their faces, most of the conversation about the Amazon on Twitter seemed to have occurred far from the forest, in the country’s largest capitals.
Indigenous leaders, environmentalists, and accounts linked to NGOs that are active in the Amazon region appear in the debate, dialoguing and informing those interested in the subject throughout the country. But in terms of volume of accounts engaged in the conversation, the forest region barely shows up.
Part of this absence, says Victor Piaia, researcher at the School of Communication, Media and Information of FGV (FGV ECMI), can be explained by the fact that many recent users of the network do not inform their location. However, there are also structural issues, such as lack of connectivity and different information habits.
The map below shows the distribution of tweets about Amazon issues between the afternoon of August 22 and the afternoon of August 30.
Map shows distribution of Amazon-related tweet terms collected between August 21 and 30, 2022.
The debate on TV
How did the issues concerning the Amazon and the environment enter into the conversation?
On TV, they have entered very little. Of the 499 speeches gathered in the transcript of the four interviews and the debate, themes related to the problems of the forest appear in 64 of them – and, even so, they are not infrequently discussed in a vague manner.
If in the debate on TV and in the interviews there were few mentions, on Twitter the conversation was fierce. Throughout the week, Trendsmap, a global monitoring tool for posts made on Twitter that allows searching by word and location, found more than 34,000 people using Amazon-related keywords.
The peaks in popularity of the mentions occurred exactly during the interviews and the debate, with the topic extending for hours and days afterwards. Similar patterns were observed in the debate of other issues, according to Piaia. “The population is urged to take a stand and the events manage, in their own way, to direct attention, creating a unique space for the discussion of these issues. This perception of the absence of mentions of the Amazon in the debates and, at the same time, the increase of the debate in the networks, shows well the convergence between the space for discussion that the elections open and the capacity of the networks to mobilize on relevant issues.”
“The population is urged to take a stand and the events manage, in their own way, to direct attention, creating a unique space for the discussion of these issues. This perception of the absence of mentions of the Amazon in the debates and, at the same time, the increase of the debate in the networks, shows well the convergence between the space for discussion that the elections open and the capacity of the networks to mobilize on relevant issues.”
– Victor Piaia, researcher at the School of Communication, Media and Information at Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV ECMI)
Isolated ‘galaxies’ debate the forest
The debate about the Amazon on social networks is so divided that there are two distinct spheres of conversation, as if they were distant galaxies. They use different references, have different dynamics, and even different vocabularies.
An analysis made in the Gephi tool, an analytical software program that allows visualizing the degree of affinity between pairs of users in a network with data on the same keywords throughout the week of the candidates’ exposure shows that the mentions of forest-related themes are organized in two main ways.
Gephi tool shows the main user groups in discussions about the Amazon in the week monitored by InfoAmazonia and PlenaMata, from August 21 to 29
In the most numerous part of the debate, there is a vibrant conversation between not at all homogeneous groups, who exchange information, multiply content, and serve as references for each other. They are environmentalists, journalists, politicians, digital influencers and their respective audiences, who interact with a red cloud that has about 25% of the accounts involved in the debate. The most referenced profile in this group – both with mentions to the at sign and by RTs – is that of Lula.
On the other side, there is a right-wing bubble that practically only talks among itself and has little dialogue with the press, indigenous and environmental leaders, and institutions that work for the preservation of the Amazon. The blue cloud has about 26% of the accounts, which interact little outside the group.
There is everything in these profiles: small and large accounts, personal and institutional, influencers and activists, journalists and companies. The more the users interact with each other, the closer their points get, and this is how the algorithm identifies the clusters. Within them, thematic interests and information sources tend to be similar.
This is how we can see that people pro-Bolsonaro practically only talk to each other about the topics that entered the search. They debate Amazonian issues, but without referencing the sources that dialogue on the other side of the network. The distance between the clouds in the image shows that there is rarely any account that pierces the bubble and interacts with the bubble on the left.
This is a much more centralized bubble, gravitating around far-right influencers. The most followed is Filipe Martins, special advisor to the Presidency. His profile was the one that attracted the most interactions during Bolsonaro and Lula’s interviews on Jornal Nacional. A former student of Olavo de Carvalho, he gained notoriety in 2021 for making a gesture identified as supremacist in a video broadcast, which he justified as being a moment to straighten the lapel of his jacket.
“The pro-bolsonaro bubble is overconcentrated and self-referential,” says Piaia, who sees recurring patterns staged by bubble participants on any given subject.
“Often network behavior is much more ‘automated’ in the routine dynamics of clusters (connected groups) than in the users’ opinions on specific topics being discussed,” he explains. In other words, the user’s opinion appears somewhat subordinated to the group’s engagement dynamics.
This magnified view of a piece of the conversation in Bolsonaro’s vicinity shows how homogeneous the group is. Occasionally, someone from the outside will reference the president, but most of the conversation is among those who interact with him the most.
Gephi tool shows that discussion on Amazon that references Bolsonaro with mentions or RTs is mostly ‘from the inside’: it already has strong interaction with the candidate and gets little out of the ‘bubble
The cloud that gravitates around Lula, on the other hand, talks to groups that circulate around environmentalists (green), influencers more connected to political topics (light green), journalists (light blue), and influencers more connected to pop culture (yellow) – see it in the second image of the text. The last two groups surround the central core of the debate, being referenced by various points in it and seeking engagement with these important issues on the day.
In orange, leaning towards the right side of the cloud, are the debaters who, in the absence of a better classification, can be taken as the “third way”. The most prominent profile is that of Ciro Gomes; Simone Tebet is also in the group, but does not have enough interactions to stand out and be located in the graph. Besides the profiles identified with the group, they interact mainly with journalists and influencers, and eventually with the group that gravitates around Lula.
Each group is made up of many different profiles, with interests that converge at some points with those of other nearby groups. It is a federation of spheres that recognize and dialogue with each other. Its participants reference each other, share information, talk to other “bubbles” – even though most of the interactions are within their own groups.
This enlarged view of a piece of the conversation in Lula’s vicinity shows how intertwined the groups are.
Groups making reference to Lula on social networks during the Amazon debate are more diverse, including environmentalists and journalists
For comparison purposes, the conversation referencing Ciro Gomes appears much less voluminous and with little interlocution.
Despite being more diverse than Bolsonaro’s, Ciro’s ‘bubble’ has fewer contacts and is less referenced in the networks when the subject is the Amazon
Read below some observations about the digital debates that took place during the interviews of the two best-placed candidates in the polls and the Band debate.
During President Jair Bolsonaro’s interview on the Jornal Nacional, on the 22nd, Amazon-related themes appeared in 28 speeches. It was the longest sequence among all television events, accounting for almost half of all mentions of the subject.
The current president of the Republic was questioned about the increase in deforestation in the Amazon and the dismantling of inspection guarantees – and he denied everything. He criticized the destruction of environmental violators’ tractors by the enforcement authorities and even blamed the fires on the riverside dwellers.
Meanwhile, on Twitter, one out of every five messages within the searches between 8 pm and midnight was about deforestation. One out of eight mentioned Ibama. The peak of mentions occurred between 8:45 and 9 pm, at the end of the interview. At this point, according to Trendsmap, the tone of the messages was the most negative.
After the interviewers’ questions on TV, the candidates’ speeches were fiercely and ironically challenged by indigenous people, politicians, journalists, environmentalists, and others interested in the issue.
On one side, right-wing influencers criticized the Jornal Nacional’s questions.
On the other net, which consisted of most of the debate, people connected with the forest and the environment, as well as influencers critical of the government, expressed astonishment at the statements.
The president’s speeches, especially his incoherence, have dominated the debate. And, as if they were separate galaxies, the two groups did not interact during those four hours. This pattern was repeated in the other three interviews and in the debate (see below).
Groups that reference Bolsonaro and Lula walk apart, with no interactions on social networks
When speaking to Jornal Nacional on the 25th, the former president was not asked about the Amazon. He was asked about agribusiness and the proximity between his party, the PT, and the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST). It was Lula who took the initiative to mention the Amazon, when he criticized the lack of environmental concern on the part of agribusiness.
The theme lasted eight speeches, between questions and answers, and in them Lula made two statements that echoed on the networks: a criticism of the delay of part of agribusiness and a refutation of the MST’s image as a land invader, remembering that cooperatives linked to the movement are today important producers of organic rice.
On Twitter, one out of every 12 comments within searches between 8 pm and midnight mentioned agribusiness. One out of every 14 was about deforestation. The peak in mentions of the searched topics occurred right after the interview, at 9:10 pm. It was soon after that the interviewee’s own account elaborated on the agribusiness theme in a tweet that distinguished between serious businessmen and those who deforest. “The current president had an environment minister who said it was to pass the cattle,” the message recalled.
Seconds later, former judge and minister of Bolsonaro’s government, Sérgio Moro, now a candidate for the Senate in the state of Paraná, also made a point of speaking out about the interview.
In the debate between the users, two different universes were also seen. Now even the official account of Jair Bolsonaro, interviewed days before and second in the polls, has posted criticism towards Lula.
Meanwhile, in the right-wing bubble, Lula’s mentions to the “agrofascist” echoed voraciously.
In the bubble next to it, the MST echoed the former president’s lines about their food production.
In the four hours collected, the right-wing debate was centered on a relatively small number of influencers, with less than 5% of the accounts participating in the debate (bottom right). Of the rest, most were left-wing politicians, environmentalists, journalists, and influencers who dialogued and shared information (top left).
Only twelve mentions of Amazon-related themes occurred during the debate, and a third of the speeches came from a candidate who barely appears in the polls. Former president Lula took the initiative to ask the candidate Felipe D’Ávila (Novo) about the environmental inconsistency of agribusiness practices, three days after he criticized part of the sector in the Jornal Nacional.
D’Ávila made an unconditional defense of the agricultural businessmen and Lula commented: “Look, no serious businessman who knows about the commercial relationship in the world is going to burn or destroy the Brazilian biomes, be it Pantanal, Amazon, Caatinga. However, we have people in the government who even encourage it, we had ministers who said they would let the cattle pass.”
In the debate audience, former minister Ricardo Salles, who suggested “passing the cattle” with unpopular environmental measures during a meeting in 2020, tried to get into a physical confrontation with federal deputy André Janones (Avante), who advises Lula’s campaign on social networks. Videos recorded by journalists and others present spread quickly through the networks.
With all this buzz, the most quoted people on Twitter in connection with Amazon topics were Lula (29% of the tweets), Bolsonaro (16%), as well as Salles (9%) and Janones (7%). In terms of themes, the most cited was deforestation (30%). After Lula’s interview, influencers and right-wing politicians already had available screenshots and links about the deforestation data of the PT candidate’s government, and started to distribute this material.
The other candidates present (Bolsonaro, Ciro Gomes, Simone Tebet, and Soraya Thronicke) did not mention the subject. D’Ávila answered again about agribusiness in a question from one of the journalists invited to the debate. See the tweets below:
Comments on Lula’s account:
Criticism towards Lula:
Criticism towards agribusiness:
Criticism towards the lack of questions about the Amazon and deforestation:
The Digital Democracy Room at FGV ECMI is an initiative to monitor and analyze the public debate on the internet. Currently, it has partnerships to help monitor politics on the networks in Brazil and in Latin America. This content was produced by the partner InfoAmazônia.