“Bubblenaro”: 97% of the interactions from Bolsonaro supporters on social networks happen inside their own bubble
by Info Amazônia
Por Marcelo Soares
Updated 31 de October, 2022 at 3:23 pm
In other groups, such as Lula’s supporters and the environmentalists, this statistic drops to around 60% and 55%, respectively. PlenaMata analyzed more than 950 thousand tweets with environmental topics between August and October, this year.
A pattern stands out from the data on any topic of social or environmental interest debated on Twitter: Bolsonaro supporters discuss each topic virtually only among themselves, reproducing mostly posts made by their influencers and their own communication channels.
It is a sort of “Bubblenaro”: 97% of the interactions happen between accounts interacting only inside the bubble, while other major groups debate the same topics outside the bubble. For Lula supporters and environmentalists, this statistic is approximately 60%; find more details below.
This makes spreading disinformation easier. The dissemination of topics often happens with the aid of bots, which increases its volume and gives the impression that a parallel reality exists.
To identify this Bubblenaro engine, InfoAmazonia and PlenaMata analyzed 947,700 tweets containing the words Amazon, deforestation, mining and fires, published between August 23 and October 22, 2022. This dynamic on the network was observed based on more than 800 thousand interactions between accounts.
As demonstrated by the project Mentira Tem Preço, this bubble circulates untruths such as Brazil having the best environmental laws in the world, with 80% of the Amazon preserved.
Inside the Bubblenaro – the term chosen here to name the pro-Bolsonaro bubble on social networks –, to discuss the lack of environmental accountability by a section of the agribusiness sector is to demonize the production of food. To those inside the bubble, even though it is a lie, the Bolsonaro administration created a sort of indigenous 2.0, and non-governmental organizations are an imminent threat.
Although most of the disinformation spread by Bolsonaro supporters circulates on YouTube and instant messaging channels on Telegram and WhatsApp, Twitter allows us to see the dynamics of the connections made when disinformation emerges in the public debate outside the spaces inside the bubble.
The Bubblenaro dynamics
How the 250 largest pro-Bolsonaro profiles interacted in topics related to the Amazon
Source: Data from 940 thousand tweets collected on Trendsmap; groups calculated using Gephi
How to read this graph: Each dot represents one of the 250 pro-Bolsonaro profiles that interacted the most on Twitter in topics related to the Amazon The size of each dot and the thickness of each line are proportional to the number of interactions. Click on a lighter dot to see which of the major profiles it retweeted, and on a darker dot to see who made the retweet
Their own ecosystem
“Looking at the URLs shared, there is a noticeable construction of their own informational ecosystem”, said Marcelo Alves, a professor at PUC-Rio and a researcher on the subject. He indicated the high presence of links from far-right websites, such as Terra Brasil Notícias and Jornal da Cidade Online. He also said that news stories published by the traditional media are present in the group, but only after being “curated”, with comments characterizing the media as an antagonist. “That is the phenomenon stimulating polarization.”
Raquel Recuero, a researcher at the Pelotas Federal University (UFPel), has analyzed the pro-Bolsonaro discourse on networks for years. In a recent article, she indicated a “strong conspiratory narrative resulting from these discourses”. She said this conspiratory tone contributes to making the debate more extreme.
On Twitter, Bubblenaro’s accounts do interact provocatively with other groups, but this type of interaction is far less frequent than engaging with the content posted by the opinion leaders inside the bubble. This induced engagement brings the terms of interest in the bubble to the trending topics, and then they end up becoming news in major Brazilian publications.
“The mechanics of the interaction promoted by the profiles on the network affects the speed with which content spreads and the dynamics with which the ecosystem responds to attacks and to content that is harmful to its agenda or leaders”, wrote the lawyer Cristiano Zanin in a report sent to the Electoral Justice on October 16. “The mechanics of occupation of a virtual space used by the disinformation system are able to make a piece of disinformation content quickly reach millions of people.”
Researchers such as Chris Bouzy from BotSentinel and Janna Ocelli Omena from the Public Data Lab have indicated a high predominance of bots in this engagement, even though there is also a lot of traditional support on social networks.
Heloísa Massaro from InternetLab has contributed to research around Brazil. She believes it is difficult to distinguish between “planned strategies” and organic behavior on networks. “These groups have a lot of people engaged, and what we observe is that people closer to the campaign have had an increasingly larger role in directing and signaling whether things are going in the right direction than in actually defining the direction, because they are a lot of people”, she said.
The Bubblenaro engine
We can visually represent the Bubblenaro dynamics through the hundreds of thousands of interactions collected by Trendsmap, a global monitoring tool for posts made of Twitter, which enables searches using words and locations.
The visualization tool Gephi, an analytics tool that enables the visualization of the degree of affinity between pairs of users on a network, calculates the proximity between profiles based on the interactions, organizing them into groups. The tool shows Bubblenaro speaking almost in unison, all in the same color. Here, it is represented in orange.
It is a similar patterns to that observed in the interactions about the Amazon in the first electoral debates.
Bubblenaro is composed by 13,413, or a little over a quarter, of the 52,904 profiles whose interactions were captured by Trendsmap in the ten weeks analyzed. Trendsmap considers replies to retweets as interactions.
In the graph, the bubble appears almost perfectly spherical because the vast majority of the interactions happen inside itself. When a group has more interactions with other groups, it appears closer and its edges are only distinguishable when coloring the dots.
“The pro-Bolsonaro bubble is super-concentrated and self-referential”, said Vitor Piaia, a researcher at the School of Communication, Media and Information of Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV ECMI), when commenting on the interactions during the debates.
If we compare the pattern of interactions between the participants of this bubble to that of the other major groups – which, to simplify, we will name Lulaverse and Friends of the Environment –, its level of self-referencing is immense: 97% of the interactions inside Bubblenaro happen inside the group itself, compared to 60% in the Lulaverse and 55% in Friends of the Environment.
This can be seen particularly when aggregating all the interactions in each group and remove the ones happening internally. Bubblenaro becomes a minuscule dot, and most of the conversation happens between the two major groups, both among themselves and interacting with the others.
There are micro- and medium-sized influencers multiplying more or less the same message. According to Raquel Recuero there is a higher plurality of discourses in the other side, and the graph shows there is enough proximity for dialogue. The lines connecting Bubblenaro to the different groups of society are conflict lines: they usually happen in aggressive interactions.
Who makes up the Bubblenaro
We can detach Bubblenaro from the rest of the debate and observe how its more than 22 thousand connections between profiles are divided internally. Now, the bubble has ten shades of orange divided without much concentration and with a strong level of internal interaction.
Credit: Marcelo Soares / InfoAmazonia Credit: Marcelo Soares / InfoAmazonia
In a way, these subgroups mirror the “division of work” described in a report made on October 16 by Lula’s campaign to the Electoral Justice. After the report, some accounts that are not directly involved with authorities, such as @brazilfght, were suspended from Twitter.
The largest subgroup has more than 18% of the profiles in the bubble. It is centered around the posts made by the pro-Bolsonaro influencer @kimpaim and includes notorious Bolsonaro supporters in the Legislative Branch, such as Bia Kicis, Cristiane Brasil (the daughter of Roberto Jefferson, who posted videos in which he commented on the shots he fired at Federal Police agents), Eduardo Cunha and Douglas Garcia. This sub-bubble also includes the former minister Salim Mattar and the economist Leandro Ruschel.
In the monitoring carried out by Mentira Tem Preço in September, the tweets with the highest level of engagement containing lies about the deforestation in the Amazon came from this sub-bubble:
In the highlight below, we see a common pattern in which a larger public account publishes something and a swarm of smaller accounts multiplies it. Paim, a youtuber living in Australia, was described in the report as a sort of “aggregator” of statements made by the major profiles interacting with Carlos Bolsonaro, the son of President Jair Bolsonaro and considered the articulator of the so-called “Office of Hate”.
The tangle of shades of orange suggests many interactions within the group itself, but it is important to observe the aggregate as we did above. Kim Paim’s group appears to be central because it references all other sub-bubbles:
The second largest sub-bubble within Bubblenaro is centered around special advisor Filipe Martins, infamous for making a neo-Nazi gesture and claming he was only fixing his lapel. This bubble includes politicians closer to Bolsonaro such as General Braga Netto, Paulo Figueiredo, Adolfo Sachsida and Carteiro Reaça, as well as digital influencers such as the economist Renata Barreto (who recently became famous for being against the Enlightenment) and former BBB participant Adrilles George.
This bubble accounted for 11% of the profiles with the following internal swarm pattern:
The third bubble, with 9.6% of the profiles, is centered around media vehicles clearly aligned with Bolsonaro, such as Revista Oeste and Jovem Pan News, also including the profile of Jorge Serrão, a commentator for the channel. Communications Minister Fábio Faria is in this bubble.
Isabella Marin Silva from Lagom Data contributed to this analysis.
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.