21 Mar

Pro-Bolsonaro group mobilizes defense of the president’s son in diplomatic tensions with China on Twitter

The debate generated 1.7 million tweets in less than two days

Updated 30 de March, 2020 at 9:58 am

At the epicenter of the increasingly wider debate about the coronavirus in Brazil, Bolsonaro’s support group, which has been progressively losing space in the general discussion about the pandemic, organized itself on Twitter to defend the federal deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro and his criticism of China — which were replied to by the Chinese embassy in the country.

With this movement to support Eduardo — and the aggregation of other sectors of society to condemn him —, the debate generated 1.7 million posts on Twitter between Wednesday (18) at 6 p.m. and Friday (20) at 1 p.m., according to the data collected by the Department of Public Policy Analysis.

General data of the analysis

In total during the period analyzed, the hashtag #víruschinês (Chinese virus), the nickname often used by Donald Trump, appeared in 198 thousand tweets — a volume that was not achieved this week by any pro-Bolsonaro hashtags articulated for the “cacerolazos” in favor of the government; 

The pro-Bolsonaro group engaged in the defense of the representative very actively in the discussion, reaching 36% of the interactions in the analysis. However, since the beginning of the week, when the general discussion about the coronavirus intensified in Brazil, the pro-government groups correspond to less than 15% of the total number of interactions; this Thursday (19), they represented only 8% of the more than 5 million posts about the coronavirus in Brazil;

The word “bananinha”, used by vice president Hamilton Mourão to explain the negative impact of Eduardo’s post (due to the “semantic weight” of the Bolsonaro family name), appeared in 43 thousand tweets, including the ironic hashtag #eduardobananinha;

The main focus of the debate among the profiles supporting the government is rejecting communism and blaming it for the global dissemination of the pandemic: mentions to the regime added up to 170 thousand tweets (10% of the total), and 8% (132 thousand tweets) used words such as “guilty” and “blame” to criticize the attitude of the Chinese people during the start of the epidemic.

Map of interactions in the debate about Eduardo Bolsonaro and China on Twitter
Period analyzed: March 18 at 6 p.m. until March 20 at midday

Green – 33% of the interactions
The root of the discussion articulated from the messages posted by the Chinese ambassador Yang Wanming and by the Chinese Embassy in Brazil, also including profiles of other political actors who condemned Eduardo Bolsonaro’s comments, such as Rodrigo Maia. The group also includes, to a lesser extent, profiles of the partisan left wing.

Blue – 36% of the interactions
The root of Eduardo Bolsonaro’s defense, with a strong anti-communist discourse, criticism of the positions adopted by authorities who declared support for the Chinese, and massive, organized actions by many frequent influencers in the pro-Bolsonaro groups on Twitter.

Pink – 12%
A fragmented group with no strong discursive unity coming from specific influential profiles, but with a critical position towards Eduardo Bolsonaro and using memes and ironic posts to approach the topic with a negative tone regarding the representative.

Act I — Eduardo Bolsonaro and Chernobyl

The post made by Eduardo which led to the diplomatic situation happened on Wednesday (18) in the morning, when the federal deputy compared the coronavirus pandemic to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 in the Soviet Union.

From this comparison, which he used to criticize the so-called omission by the Chinese government in disclosing information on the advancement of the disease, right-wing profiles aligned with the government started a debate criticizing communism, which was seen as the enemy to blame for the international escalation of the problem.

Up to that moment, this debate was contained within the pro-federal government influence groups, who also make relevant conspiratorial posts on Twitter about China’s “interests” regarding the pandemic – including economic, military, strategic and social.

Act II — China’s official reply

However, after the response given by the official account of the Chinese Embassy in Brazil and by ambassador Yang Wanming at around 10 p.m. on Wednesday, opposition groups from the right and left wings quickly organized themselves to condemn the comment made by the representative. At that moment, the first peak of engagement about the topic on Twitter happened, with an average of more than 1.4 thousand tweets per minute.

Throughout the night on Wednesday and the morning on Thursday (19), authorities, political actors and influencers of the political scenario continued to demonstrate their positions and to mobilize the impact — especially the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Rodrigo Maia, the main political influencer among the groups condemning the comment on Twitter.

Act II — The reaction of Eduardo’s support group

On Thursday morning, however, after the quick negative repercussions regarding Eduardo Bolsonaro, the sphere of digital influence of the pro-government group quickly turned to the networks to defend him and reiterate the criticisms made against the Chinese. Almost all of the main influencers of the group aligned with Olavo de Carvalho made posts in the morning, as well as bloggers aligned with Bolsonaro and right-wing representatives. To a lesser degree, a similar movement was seen on the left wing, starting from messages made by the former president Dilma Rousseff.

The new movement in support of Eduardo Bolsonaro, whose duration extended from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday, peaked at around 2:30 p.m. (1,700 tweets per minute) with shares from multiple pro-government actors containing accusatory messages to China and emphasizing the “dictatorial” and “oppressive” image of the country’s political regime. They also praise the United States and criticize political figures (such as Maia) for promptly expressing support for the Chinese.

The last peak of interactions about the topic started at 9:00 p.m. on Thursday and reflected the polarization in engagement associated with the subject — this time, however, with a greater focus on chancellor Ernesto Araújo, who also mobilized to defend Eduardo Bolsonaro, and on interactions based on articles and news published by the professional press.