20 Sep

Left-wing group grows and Lula narrows the distance from Bolsonaro in volume of interactions on digital platforms

Updated 17 de October, 2022 at 6:18 pm

  • Starting in August, both Bolsonaro and Lula grew in number of interactions on Twitter. However, while the PT candidate has maintained his trend of growth, Bolsonaro deaccelerated after September 7;
  • Left-wing and center-left actors and pages stood out in the debate about the elections on Twitter and Facebook, but the pro-government group has been able to mobilize most of the interactions on Twitter;
  • Although Bolsonaro’s campaign has been focusing on women, the associations between the president and sexist have grown significantly, around 543%, between Augusto and September, with a negative repercussion for the re-election candidate;
  • Although the pro-government group has a strong mobilization around the decrease in fuel prices, Lula obtained a higher level of growth in associations with that topic, particularly after the meme “Lula subiu, Gasolina caiu” (“Lula increased, the gas decreased”) went viral.

As the electoral process advances, President Jair Bolsonaro has asked for support on the digital platforms, and he has been followed closely by former president Lula in volume of interactions on major networks. Those were the findings of a survey by the School of Communication at FGV, which analyzed more than 280 million interactions in the profiles of presidential candidates in five popular platforms in Brazil.

Despite his large advantage in terms of interactions on Facebook, President Jair Bolsonaro has been losing his lead against former president Lula on Twitter, Instagram and Tiktok. On Youtube, the president has already been overtaken by Simone Tebet, Ciro Gomes and Lula, who leads the volume of views among the presidential candidates. This growth seen by the PT candidate was followed by an expansion of the left-wing political field.

As the election draws nearer, the major topics of debate regarding the elections have been mobilized based on the political moves and statements made by the candidates leading the polls. An analysis about the topics related to the presidential candidates on Twitter showed an increase in the association between Bolsonaro and interventionism during the September 7 protests. In turn, references to former president Lula focused on the topics of security and corruption, especially on the repercussion of threats against Fernando Haddad in a rally that was canceled in the state of São Paulo and the candidate’s position regarding the political use of the date by Bolsonaro.


Map of interactions – Twitter

Map of interactions in mentions to presidential candidates in the debate about the elections on Twitter
Period: September 8 to 19

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: School of Communication, Media and Information at FGV

Left wing (Red) – 32.62% of profiles | 38.8% of interactions
Group formed by the left wing, where former president Lula’s profile stands out. In addition to supporting the PT candidate, the group was marked by the mobilization of negative sentiment regarding Bolsonaro, usually through episodes that might explain the allegedly condemnable behavior of the pro-government group. For instance, an episode in which a pro-Bolsonaro entrepreneur refused to give food to a PT supporter was largely mobilized in the group. The group also circulated the view of Felipe Neto, who believes that the moderate tone recently adopted by Bolsonaro is a strategy to gain the votes of the undecided.

Influencers (Pink) 30.9% of profiles | 4.3% of interactions
Group composed of different influencers and marked by a strong rejection of Bolsonaro, which connects it to the left-wing cluster. Using a comical tone in their tweets, the group made jokes and posted memes about different aspects related to the president, such as the idea that Queen Elizabeth had been through a lot in her life, but could not stand the “imbrochável” (“unfloppable”) chant led by Bolsonaro on September 7.

Right wing (Blue) – 27.53% of profiles | 50.5% of interactions
Group composed of pro-government profiles, where Jair Bolsonaro and his allies, such as the journalist Kim Paim, stand out. The group was mobilized by an anti-PT narrative and commented on the notion that Bolsonaro is allegedly politically strong, threatening Lula, the media and the Judiciary Branch. The group has adopted a tone of insubordination, particularly regarding the decisions of the Judiciary Branch, with intense sharing of electoral campaign images on September 7, which were prohibited by the Superior Electoral Court. Other highlights were a defense of freedom and the alleged advances achieved by the government for Brazil.

Center-left (Orange) – 4.41% of profiles | 5.5% of interactions
Group supporting the presidential candidate Ciro Gomes, highlighting publications that praised the PDT candidate and described him as the most coherent and qualified in the electoral race. There were also frequent attacks against Lula and Bolsonaro, as well as publications highlighting Ciro’s curriculum and experience. There was a notion in this group that those who favored one of the presidential candidates leading in voting intentions are allegedly being manipulated.


Major tweets inside the groups in the map of interactions on Twitter
Period: September 8 to 19

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: School of Communication, Media and Information at FGV

Evolution of the political fields on Twitter

The analysis of the political fields is carried out through the network of relationships established through retweets. The research rule adopted sought to collect publications mentioning the presidential candidates in Brazil in 2022. The groups were formed based on the network of retweets, which approximates profiles retweeting the same profiles. That is, if two profiles retweeted 10 other profiles, and 8 of those were the same, they become closer. If they do not share profiles, they become more distant.

This technique enables the identification of groups of profiles that were later classified according to ideological fields. The identification was carried out based on the presence of the four candidates leading the election polls. Lula was the proxy to define the left-wing group; Bolsonaro defined the right-wing; Ciro Gomes defined the center-left; and Simone Tebet defined the center-right.

The first graph presents the variation in the volume of profiles in the debate about the presidential candidates. The groups aligned with Lula and Jair Bolsonaro varies between 35% and 50% of profiles, a large predominance over Ciro Gomes and Simone Tebet. The group containing former president Lula led in terms of volume of interactions in 13 of the first 19 days in September.

The second graph presents the variation in the volume of interactions in the debate about the presidential candidates. Interactions are calculated based on the number of retweets. They serve as a measure to identify the engagement of mobilization in each group. The data collected in September shows that the group containing Bolsonaro led in terms of volume of interactions in 10 of the first 19 days of that month. However, this group usually shows that highest volume of engagement in most of these types of analyses. Therefore, this narrow advantage of 10 versus 9 is an indication of the strength of Lula’s group on Twitter during September.


Evolution of the political fields on Twitter
Period: September 1 to 19

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: School of Communication, Media and Information at FGV


Interactions in the profiles of presidential hopefuls


Evolution of interactions in the profiles of presidential hopefuls on Twitter
Analysis period: July 25 to September 18 | Aggregated per week

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: School of Communication, Media and Information at FGV


  • Jair Bolsonaro and Lula had a fierce battle in volume of interactions during the whole period. The interviews at the Jornal Nacional were among the posts with the most interactions from presidential candidates;
  • The publication with the most interactions among all candidates was published by former president Lula, with a picture of his campaign logo on August 16. The second post with the most interactions was published by Jair Bolsonaro’s profile, with a video in which the president played an online game;
  • Ciro Gomes stood out with publications criticizing Jair Bolsonaro’s performance as president and seeking to consolidate Ciro’s image as a viable option for the presidential race;
  • Simone Tebet had a low level of engagement in the whole period, obtaining more reach in posts criticizing Bolsonaro’s behavior regarding women, particularly the speeches he gave on September 7 and his attack against the journalist Vera Magalhães during the Band debate.


Evolution of interactions in the profiles of presidential hopefuls on Facebook
Analysis period: July 25 to September 18 | Aggregated per week

Source: Facebook | Elaborated by: School of Communication, Media and Information at FGV


  • Bolsonaro remained the main presidential candidate on Facebook. His highlights were behind-the-scenes publications about he interview he gave on Jornal Nacional and the live streaming of the speech he gave at Copacabana beach during the September 7 protests;
  • Lula stood out in publications showing his alliances with political leaders, such as Alexandre Kalil, Geraldo Alckmin and André Janones. The publication about Brazil’s independence was the third with the most interactions;
  • Ciro Gomes focused on making aggressive posts criticizing and attacking Lula and Bolsonaro. However, he did not obtain a high volume of interactions in his profile;
    Simone Tebet was the presidential candidate with the fewest publications, which also reflected on her volume of engagement. Her highlights were posts about the launch of her campaign.



Evolution of interactions in the profiles of presidential hopefuls on Instagram
Analysis period: July 25 to September 18 | Aggregated per week

Source: Instagram | Elaborated by: School of Communication, Media and Information at FGV


  • President Jair Bolsonaro had an increase in interactions in the beginning of the electoral campaign, but was not able to maintain his distance from the other presidential candidates. The publications about the interview and content showing the achievements of the federal government had a high level of performance on the platform;
  • Former president Lula also grew and was able to maintain his performance, surpassing Bolsonaro in volume of engagement in the last weeks. On this platform, the PT candidate continued to focus on associating his image with celebrities. He also posted more intimate content related to his wife and his soccer team;
  • The presidential candidate Ciro Gomes did not grow significantly on the platform during this period. His publications with the highest volume of interactions included content criticizing President Bolsonaro for the events of September 7, promoting his candidacy as an alternative for political polarization, and lamenting the death of Jô Soares;
  • The presidential candidate Simone Tebet continued to have a low presence on the platform. In her publications with a higher volume of interactions, the senator mentioned feminist issues in order to establish herself as the candidate defending women.



Evolution of views in the channels of presidential hopefuls on YouTube
Analysis period: July 25 to September 18 | Aggregated per week

Source: YouTube | Elaborated by: School of Communication, Media and Information at FGV


  • The presence of former president Lula on the platform increased with the official start of the electoral race. His highlights were videos used in his television campaign, defending him from alleged lies and comparing his political project and public history with those of President Bolsonaro;
  • Maintaining his good performance on the platform, the presidential candidate Ciro Gomes had a high volume of views by presenting his main government proposals, defending his political project and with campaign videos;
  • The presidential candidate Simone Tebet also used her YouTube channel to promote her government programs and to make intersections during open programming when she promotes her main proposals;
  • President Jair Bolsonaro shared his weekly live broadcast on the platform and promoted his achievements as president. Although he has a regular number of views, his performance is inferior to that of the other candidates.



Evolution of plays in the channels of presidential hopefuls on TikTok
Analysis period: July 25 to September 18 | Aggregated per week

Source: TikTok | Elaborated by: School of Communication, Media and Information at FGV


  • Former president Lula had the most viewed video among the presidential candidates and showed a trend of growth. In his videos with the highest level of engagement, Lula made effective use of the platform’s native trends. His highlights were portions of his JN interview emphasizing the candidate’s ability to dialogue, as well as personal stories with an emotional tone in order to reinforce his commitment to take care of people;
  • The numbers aggregated per week showed Jair Bolsonaro with the highest peak of interactions, maintaining his tone of rivalry against Lula, focusing his attacks on the topic of corruption and emphasizing that the PT was “against the reduction in fuel prices”. Attacks against the traditional media were also part of his discourse. His highlighted videos also showed Bolsonaro praising the Brazilian agribusiness;
  • Ciro Gomes showed an advantage last week by appropriating a meme and being highly active on the platform. Although his content focused on criticizing Bolsonaro, Ciro also made criticisms related to the economy against both Bolsonaro and Lula, comparing the proposals of both candidates and seeking to distinguish himself based on his proposal for the economic model;
  • Far behind in terms of interactions compared to the other presidential candidates, Simone Tebet commented on parts of the interviews and electoral debates, focusing on criticizing President Bolsonaro, particularly his bad administration of the pandemic, and also emphasized educational and public health policies, especially for early childhood and youth.


Map of interactions – Facebook

Map of interactions in mentions to presidential candidates in the debate about the elections on Facebook
Period: September 8 to 19

Source: Facebook | Elaborated by: School of Communication, Media and Information at FGV

Left wing (Red) ‒ 37.04% of profiles
Group formed by profiles aligned with the left, sharing news from websites with a “neutral” stance or progressive bias. News attacking Bolsonaro’s candidacy stood out, such as the story exposing the purchase of real state using cash by the president and his family members, on UOL, and the episode in which a pro-Bolsonaro entrepreneur denied food to a Lula supporter, on Estado de Minas. In the context of September 7, the highlights included the reply given by Janja Silva to Bolsonaro’s attempt to disqualify her for not being a “princess”, such as the first lady and other women in the right wing, as well as the Military Police inspection of black young men who booed the Bolsonaro demonstrations in Rio de Janeiro. There was also a highlight for the cuts in the Farmácia Popular, for the electoral polls, and for celebrities who declared their “tactical vote” for Lula.

Right wing (Blue) ‒ 29.93% of profiles
Group formed by Bolsonaro’s supporters and marked by the intense sharing of links with anti-PT content. The highlights were the so-called “LulaFlix” and the circulation of a news story by the portal Brasil Sem Medo defending the truthfulness of a fake audio recording attributed to Lula. In the alleged recording, which was recently shared by Flácio Bolsonaro, the former president attacked Antonio Palocci. The circulation of doubtful content marked a large portion of the links propagated by the group, with references to “DataPovo” (a joke with the DataFolha institute, responsible for electoral polls), to polls showing Bolsonaro’s victory on the first round, and to alleged indications of a partnership between the PT candidate and Rede Globo. The notion that the president is allegedly being persecuted by the media and by the Judiciary Branch was also present.

Local media (Green) – 3.19% of profiles
Group formed by blogs and independent regional vehicles that tend to favor perspectives aligned with Bolsonaro or Lula, either directly or through local allies. The blog Luís Cardoso, for instance, highlighted a poll in which Bolsonaro was ahead of Lula in voting intentions, while the blog Ezequiel Neves published about a declaration made by PDT members regarding a “tactical vote” for Lula. The vehicles also focused significantly on covering the cuts for the Farmácia Popular and the controversy involving the singer João Gomes, which allegedly declared he was against Bolsonaro and had his concerts canceled in the state of Maranhão.

Left-wing groups (Orange) – 2.21% of profiles
Group that emphasized violent episodes that happened in the dispute between PT supporters and Bolsonaro supporters by circulating links covering these events. The group was concerned about showing mostly episodes started by Bolsonaro supporters, reinforcing the notion that the president’s supporters and dangerous.

Center-left (Pink) ‒ 1.20% of profiles
Group composed of users who believe in the third way, particularly those supporting Ciro Gomes, with intense circulation of links seeking to show and establish the PDT candidate’s voting intentions. The tensions between Bolsonaro and Lula also stood out in this group: there is a notion that the current president and his supporters are violent and dangerous, and that Lula and his supporters are traitors and corrupted. By sharing links feeding the anti-PT rhetoric, the group makes a lateral connection with the pro-government group, sharing statements and opinions made by right-wing actors such as Monark.


Topics associated with the presidential candidates


Variation of topics mostly associated with Lula
Analysis period: August 23 to September 5 in relation to the previous period | September 6 to 19 in relation to the previous period

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: School of Communication, Media and Information at FGV


  • The debate about violence and crime stood out, particularly when comparing the second period analyzed to the first. The increase was driven by the presidential debate in Band, when Bolsonaro called Lula a “former inmate”, generating a mobilization of his supporters around the term “Luladrão” (wordplay in Portuguese with the words “Lula” and “ladrão”, meaning thief). Cases of violence involving Bolsonaro supporters against supporters of the former president drove the discussion in the following weeks, but the mobilization was weak compared to the previous period;
  • The television debate also drove a 254% increase in the discussions about the environment, with accusations against the environmental policy of the Bolsonaro administration helping promote Lula;
  • The negative campaign against Bolsonaro was also a highlight in the debate about sexism, with people declaring support for Lula due to the fact that they cannot vote for a candidate who allegedly hates women. However, this narrative was limited to the days after the Band debate, weakening in the following weeks;
  • Another highlight was a 114% increase in associations between Lula and the issue of fuels, particularly in the beginning of September, when the expression “Lula subiu, Gasolina caiu” went viral. After Carlos Bolsonaro reported the meme to the Superior Electoral Court, the mentions to the topic reached a peak, with comments ridiculing the city councilor. This movement happened again in the second week of September, when the price of gas fell again;
  • Mentions to corruption oscillated, at first showing a 166% increase; however, this increase was not maintained. This growth was positive for Lula, with comparisons between the Triplex case and the recent scandal related to the purchase of real state by the Bolsonaro family, defending that the episode involving the president was allegedly a lot more serious.

Variation of topics mostly associated with Jair Bolsonaro
Analysis period: August 23 to September 5 in relation to the previous period | September 6 to 19 in relation to the previous period

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: School of Communication, Media and Information at FGV


  • The debate about disinformation reached an important peak of mentions due to Bolsonaro’s interview at the Jornal Nacional. While supporters argued that the interviewers tried to destabilize the president, the opposition highlighted “lies” about the economy, health care and corruption that he allegedly said;
  • Bolsonaro assaulted an influencer who called him “tchutchuca do Centrão” (meaning to say that he is submissive to the political establishment, the so-called “centrão” in Brazil), which was a highlight in violence/crime, a leading topic in terms of mentions to the president in all periods analyzed. In the episode, the president was criticize for his violent and “uncontrolled” behavior. The proposal to reduce the ICMS (the state goods and services tax) for firearms also mobilized this group, with both criticism and support;
  • The 543.75% increase in the topic of sexism when comparing the first analysis period to the second happened due to Bolsonaro’s aggression against the journalist Vera Magalhães in the Band presidential debate. The episode prompted a significant wave of support to the journalist in the progressive networks;
  • Mentions to the environment increased by 194.94% in the period, which was motivated mostly by the news that the September 7 demonstrations had traitors, in a nod made by the president to agribusiness;
  • The Brazilian Independence Day was marked by the political use of the holiday, requests for “military intervention”, and attacks by Bolsonaro supporters against the Judiciary Branch, prompting numerous mentions to interventionism, electoral crimes and public institutions. The discussion regarding electoral crimes increased by 66.45% and 112.43%, while the debate about public institutions increased by 75.35% and 37.26% in the two periods analyzed.


Word cloud about Bolsonaro’s speech at the UN


President Jair Bolsonaro’s speech in the opening of the General Assemlby of the United nations, in New York, received more than 265 thousand mentions in the debate about the 2022 elections on Twitter.

Evolution of interactions in the profiles of presidential hopefuls on Twitter
Analysis period: September 20

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: School of Communication, Media and Information at FGV


  • The terms “global shame” (mentioned 10,500 times) and “Brazilian shame” (mentioned 6,400 times), in reference to the projection at the “UN headquarters in New York”, set the tone of the criticism against Bolsonaro;
  • The terms competed fiercely with the mentions to “priests and nuns” (12,600 mentions) and “persecuted in Nicaragua” (8,200 mentions), widely incorporated by Bolsonaro supporters, after complaints about religious persecution in the country;
  • In the mentions associated with the term “UN General Assembly” (26,400 mentions), the opposition profiles stood out, signaling untruths that were allegedly stated by the president, especially in relation to the administration of the Covid-19 pandemic and the environmental regressions in the country; the topic was mobilized to attribute altruistic and humanitarian characteristics to the president, similarly to the statement about the government’s measures in favor of women in the face of the recent criticism regarding sexism;
  • Another statement raised by the pro-Bolsonaro group as the high point of the speech was the announcement of the alleged end of “systemic corruption” (6,700 mentions), which was received with ironic comments by progressive profiles. Overall, the pro-Bolsonaro group gave special emphasis to the association suggested by the president between Lula and “systemic corruption” in Brazil and tried to humanize the candidate by mentioning his “good relations” with Christians and women, thinking about undecided voters;
  • The projection of messages criticizing Bolsonaro at the “UN headquarters in New York” mobilized around 5,700 mentions, mostly from profiles opposing Bolsonaro;
  • The topic related to the alleged religious persecution in Nicaragua reverberated in old debates on national politics, particularly the association between Lula and the PT with the “São Paulo Forum” (5,500 mentions) and the claim that the former president is a “friend” of Daniel Ortega.