21 Jul

Amid scandals and conspiracies, presidential hopefuls are strongly associated with violence and crime in the digital debate

Updated 28 de July, 2022 at 4:16 pm

  • As of June, Lula and Bolsonaro show a strong association with the topic, which accounts for more than 20% of the mentions last month;
  • A central topic in the last electoral cycle, corruption is progressively being replaced by the debate on crime and violence in 2022;
  • While Bolsonaro is pressured by corruption scandals and accusations of encouraging political violence, attacks on Lula moved from accusations of corruption to attempts to associate the former president with criminal factions.

The debate on violence and crime has surpassed the debate on corruption, rising as the central topic in the 2022 electoral cycle. Those were the findings of an analysis produced by the Department of Public Policy Analysis at Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV DAPP), which observed the debate on security in mentions to the elections and to the presidential hopefuls from different points of view between January 1 nd July 18, 2022.

The analysis is divided into five sections: 1) the map of interactions sought to determine the size and discourse used in the political fields in the debate on violence and crime on Twitter; 2) the evolution bar graph analyzed the evolution of mentions of subtopics related to security, finding an increase in the debate on violence and crime from June onwards; 3) an analysis of the association of presidential hopefuls with the debate on violence and crime was carried out, finding a significant increase in that relationship in mentions of Lula and Bolsonaro; 4) this result led to a detailed analysis of the discourses associated with the electoral pool leaders, in word clouds that sought to capture the discursive variations of the association since the beginning of the year; 5) lastly, an analysis of the links with the most interactions about this debate on Facebook in different periods of the year was carried out.




Map of interactions in the debate about violence/crime and presidential hopefuls on Twitter
Period: Period: May 1 to July 18, 2022

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV DAPP

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 presidential candidate @LulaOficial, 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, there were posts showing a long list of crimes and highlighting President Bolsonaro as the main motivator of illicit actions. These publications claimed that the secrecy on the president’s vaccination card and the corporate card, the meeting with pastors, and the asphyxiation of Genivaldo were “crime concealment”. The messages on the platform also criticized the government support group, particularly Carla Zambelli and Jorginho Mello, for being involved in criminal schemes linked to the PCC; this alleged participation was called “Amazon mafia” and the “crime bench”.

Right wing – 43.08% of profiles | 53.22% of interactions
Driven by the profile of the presidential hopeful @jairbolsonaro and by journalists, bloggers and conservative influencers, this group focused on exalting achievements of the police force (such as BOPE, @PMERJ and @policiafederal) and publicizing alleged record lows in homicides, violent crime and drug apprehensions. The posts also blamed the left wing (mentioning the former president 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 @cirogomes, commenting on alleged illegal actions commited by presidential hopefuls 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 former president’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, would potentially slow the progress of an impeachment request.

Major tweets per group in the debate about violence/crime and presidential hopefuls
Period: Period: May 1 to July 20, 2022

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV DAPP

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

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV DAPP


  • Predominant throughout the period among the subtopics related to security, the debate on violence/crime saw an increase of more than 50% in the volume of mentions, and led by far compared to other topics in June;
  • 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 former president Lula about his participation in the negotiations for the release of businessman Abílio Diniz in relation to a kidnapping that took place in 1989. The case started a movement of 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 of education, Milton Ribeiro, and the former president of Caixa, Pedro Guimarães;
  • 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 the year, 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.

Association of presidential hopefuls with the debate about violence/crime
Period: January 1 to July 18, 2022

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV DAPP


  • 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 former president Lula in June. Bolsonaro is 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 president for the murder of Bruno Pereira, Dom Phillips, and PT supporter Marcelo Arruda, as well as reports against 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 associations;
  • During the first half of the year, former president 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 this topic, driven by a statement made by the former president about the kidnapping of Abílio Diniz and by reports published in the press and on social networks that link Lula to the murder of Celso Daniel and the PCC. In June, the debate on crime associated with the former president continued to grow, with emphasis on posts that relate the former president to the PCC and that criticize Minister Alexandre de Moraes and the press, which was 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 role in the National Congress.

Word cloud of the debate about violence/crime in association with Lula
Period: January 1st to July 18, 2022



Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV DAPP

  • Reports linking former president Lula to corruption were the main topics of the debate on violence/crime associated with the presidential hopeful between January and March. 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 the former president 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 links the former president to the PCC and the death of Celso Daniel; and statements by Lula saying that he asked Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Renan Calheiros to release Abílio Diniz’s kidnappers from prison. While there has been an association of the former president with the murder of Celso Daniel since the beginning of the year, driven by a statement by President Jair Bolsonaro on the subject, Lula’s 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 the former president 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.

Word cloud of the debate about violence/crime in association with Jair Bolsonaro
Period: January 1st to July 18, 2022



Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV DAPP


  • Minister Alexandre Moraes was criticized in the period from January to March for investigating President Bolsonaro for disclosing classified information and spreading fake news. The president’s followers accused the minister of rigging the Federal Police and claimed that Bolsonaro did not commit a crime; between April and July, Alexandre Moraes remained associated with the president for his decisions against fake news and disinformation in the elections and for the lawsuit filed by the president against the minister for abuse of authority. The decision 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 the side of the former president;
  • 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 the president organized an online campaign claiming that he had ordered the assassination of Marielle Franco and remembered the case. During this period, the president’s supporters also questioned who ordered the assassination of Bolsonaro, referring to the knife attack during the 2018 campaign; between April and July, references to Marielle Franco and the knife attack continued to be highlighted, but the president was also indirectly blamed for the death of Dom and Bruno;
  • The murder of PT supporter Marcelo Arruda by a police officer and Bolsonaro supporter in Foz do Iguaçu was also highlighted in the debate on crime/violence associated with President Jair Bolsonaro between April and July. Statements made by the president were remembered and used by users to say that Bolsonaro incites violence, arguing that the crime was politically motivated. The president was also accused of taking advantage of a conversation with the family to promote himself.



Major links in the debate about violence/crime in association with presidential hopefuls on Facebook
Period: January 1 to July 18, 2022

Source: Facebook | Elaborated by: FGV DAPP


  • The major links related to violence/crime and presidential hopefuls 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, 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 debate;
  • 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, 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-wing sectors, as can be seen from the predominance of news about the murder in Foz do Iguaçu-PR in July.