20 May

TikTok is part of the dispute for visibility of political campaigns in the presidential race

Updated 20 de July, 2023 at 8:50 pm

  • A query using the hashtag #politica (politics) on TikTok showed that the group aligned with Bolsonaro has greater cohesion but fewer profiles than the sum of the opposition groups;
  • The highlights in terms on engagement in TikTok links on Twitter were the city councilor for Rio de Janeiro @carlosbolsonaro (52% of the interactions in the group), who shared videos of his father, Jair Bolsonaro (PL), and the comedy channel @cartunistat (35% of the interactions), which shared cartoons and parodies supporting the pre-candidacy of Ciro Gomes (PDT);
  • Although the groups supporting Lula and Bolsonaro on Facebook are larger, pages and public groups aligned with Ciro showed more coordination when sharing TikTok videos across platforms;
  • In the absence of an official account for Lula, Bolsonaro leads on all engagement metrics on the platform by far. Despite the absence of the former president, his supporters shared content favorable to him which has reached other networks;
  • Viralization strategies, colloquial language and native challenges are the approach used by the presidential campaigns.

With short videos, dances, intense production and consumption of content, TikTok has established itself as a major digital space of attention and dispute of public opinion in recent years. The platform displays videos in timeline format according to an algorithmic classification and was the most downloaded application in the world in the first quarter of 2022. In Brazil, it has more than 140 million monthly users. TikTok has also grown among political campaigns, where digital communication has been defining for electoral results. In order to reach wider a audience and leveraging its capabilities for fast circulation, easy sharing and viralization mechanisms, TikTok emphasizes visibility as a potent strategy for communication and political action.

This study seeks to explore the public debate around political issues, particularly regarding the 2022 elections in Brazil, understanding TikTok as an important space for public opinion dispute that needs to be explored more. We analyzed TikTok data as well as the circulation of its contents on other networks from January 1 to May 18, 2022. We sought to map the major topics and identify groups with a presence in the platform. In addition, we analyzed performance metrics, platform usage strategies and how they tie into the campaign strategies of the major presidential candidates.

This document takes into account the presidential candidates Jair Bolsonaro (PL), Lula (PT), Ciro Gomes (PDT), João Doria (PSDB), Simone Tebet (MDB) and André Janones (Avante). Its structured is divided into i) a data collection using a broad hashtag — #política — to capture the general debate about the topic on TikTok, ii) a collection of TikTok content circulating on Twitter and Facebook about the elections and presidential candidates, and iii) content in the presidential candidates’ official TikTok accounts.

General debate

Map of interactions in mentions to #política on TikTok*
Period: January 1 to May 18, 2022

Source: TikTok | Elaborated by: FGV DAPP

Orange ‒ 38.56% of profiles
Group containing posts from different political spheres, but predominantly opposing Jair Bolsonaro. The highlights in this group included videos published by the profile @cironoflow, which shared portions of the conversation held with the presidential candidate Ciro Gomes in the Flow Podcast, and by @hazel90s, which produces comic videos against Jair Bolsonaro.

Lilac ‒ 30.51% of profiles
A group with greater political cohesion and made up of profiles that shared publications supporting Jair Bolsonaro and opposing the Workers’ Party. The highlights were profiles that published parts of videos with gaffes and mistakes made by Bolsonaro’s political opponents. Among the highlighted topics were videos that promoting distrust in the electoral system.

Green ‒ 21.19% of profiles
Like the orange group, this group contains profiles from different political spheres, but there is a predominance of profiles opposed to Jair Bolsonaro. The hashtag #politica was usually accompanied by the hashtags #lefttiktok and #esquerda (“left”) in the publications made by the main influencers.

Blue ‒ 8.90% of profiles
The group with the lowest level of political-ideological cohesion, with posts from different spheres grouped around the combination of the hashtags #politica and #humor. The association between the two hashtags indicates the production of videos that address political issues from an entertainment perspective, in line with the dynamics of the platform.

TikTok content circulating on other networks

Map of interactions in TikTok content on Twitter
Period: March 11 to May 16, 2022

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV DAPP

Blue – 50.73% of profiles | 52.03% of interactions
Group focused on promoting links to @bolsonaromessiasjair’s TikTok channel and mobilized by the official profile of Rio de Janeiro city councilor @carlosbolsonaro, posting images of the president in a more relaxed setting, suggesting that he is the most prominent and popular presidential candidate on the platform.

Orange – 32.30% of profiles | 35.98% of interactions
Group centered around the entertainment profile @CartunistaT and sharing videos from his TikTok channel ‒ @o_cartunista_timido ‒, with cartoons and songs that describe Ciro Gomes as the presidential candidate that is capable of facing and defeating other candidates or as a constant target of traps set by his opponents.

Lilac – 1.82% of profiles | 1.66% of interactions
Group composed of common users and mobilized by the profile @TVBolsonaro22, reposting videos from @bolsonaromessiasjair’s TikTok channel that show the president surrounded by supporters in visits to several Brazilian cities.

Pink – 1.64% of profiles | 1.48% of interactions
Group led by the journalist @demori and the alternative media channel @obocadelobom, posting links directing to the channels @cortesdolula and @realdemori on TikTok. @cortesdolula posted parts of statements made by former president Lula about problems faced by Brazilians today, such as inflation and unemployment; @realdemori posted comments and analysis about this year’s electoral race, focusing particularly on the presidential pre-candidates.

Yellow – 1.28% of profiles | 1.11% of interactions
Group centered around the profiles @Weintraub2022SP and @onlytruths in support of Abraham Weintraub’s candidacy for the government of São Paulo. The posts refer to TikTok videos published by the former minister’s brother, Arthur Weintraub, praising Abraham and attacking other candidates and parties.

Map of interactions in TikTok content on Facebook
Period: January 1 to May 18, 2022

Source: Facebook | Elaborated by: FGV DAPP

Blue ‒ 35.82% of profiles
Group formed by profiles and public groups that support Jair Bolsonaro’s candidacy. Among the most shared posts, there are videos that use emotional language to defend reasons for the reelection of the current president. It is interesting to note that the most shared videos were not published by official profiles or political leaders, but by profiles of influencers and common users. In addition to praising Bolsonaro’s achievements, the videos also sought to diminish Lula’s political strength among the Brazilian population.

Red ‒ 34.03% of profiles
Group formed by profiles and public groups opposing Bolsonaro and supporting Lula’s candidacy. Like in the most prominent videos in the group aligned with Bolsonaro, the materials shared in the PT support group were also published by common TikTok users. In addition to campaign events, the most shared videos used small montages and critical comments about Lula’s political opponents.

Orange ‒ 11.64% of profiles
Group formed around the candidate for Ciro Gomes. Unlike what we observed in the groups supporting Lula or Bolsonaro, in which the pages and public groups were distributed in a spaced way, this group supporting the PDT pre-candidate shows a greater concentration, approximation and relationships between the pages and groups. This configuration indicates a greater coordination in sharing and circulating TikTok videos by Ciro Gomes’ campaign, in an effort to strengthen interactions across platforms. Despite the presence of support pages, the most shared in this group was published by Ciro Gomes’ official profile on TikTok.

Presidential hopefuls on TikTok

Word cloud**

  • The presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro (PL) uses the platform to post about actions of his government – focusing on the presence of the Economy Minister, Paulo Guedes –, relaxed moments with his supporters, and videos highlighting moral values;
  • Most of the videos tend to pay homage to the homeland using the national anthem, as well as promoting the populist side of the presidential candidate by showing Jair Bolsonaro in moments of leisure and doing everyday activities;
  • It is also interesting to note the number of hashtags used by his profile. Despite the presence of hashtags such as #deus (“God”), #família (“family”) and #pátria (“nation”), other hashtags used do not correspond only to the ideological position of the right wing, since there are also hashtags such as #dilma, #pt, #mst, indicating a diverse use of hashtags on the platform.
  • The presidential candidate André Janones (Avante) uses the platform to share parts of interviews, statements and his schedule in the Chamber of Deputies, campaign events and videos with montages and popular songs on the network;
  • The videos have a disapproving tone, criticizing traditional politics and the media and posing as a representative of the people’s interests and desires. The congressman claims that the people are hostage to the “ideological debate” and that he is more concerned with their “real problems”, such as the price of food, public transport, inflation, health and social inequality;
  • He highlights his role in approving the Covid emergency aid, reducing the price of gasoline and discussing a raise in the minimum wage;
  • He uses more general hashtags as a visibility strategy on the platform, such as #fy, #2022, #tiktokbrasil and #tmj (“we’re together”). He also uses his own hashtag, #andrejanones.

  • The presidential candidate Ciro Gomes (PDT) posts videos related to his electoral campaign on the platform, presenting his ideas and contrasting them to the plans executed by the federal government, especially in the economy, and also criticizing policies carried out by the PT;
  • His profile focuses on disseminating videos that highlight his participation in interviews and the use of the hashtag #CiroGames. This hashtag is used to promote a program that the presidential candidate has on the YouTube platform to TikTok users.
  • The videos posted by his profile strongly indicate the idea that he is the only candidate who has a project for the country, pays attention to popular knowledge and centralizes collectivity and democracy.
  • The presidential candidate João Doria (PSDB) focuses on humor and relaxation to reach the young audience on the platform. The videos show him answering questions from users while barefoot and sitting on a chair, behind-the-scenes footage taken by an “employee”, and parts of interviews and public statements;
  • The videos use songs and challenges typical of the platform, using a language specific to social networks, with montages, quick cuts and filters;
  • The content highlights his role as a manager and entrepreneur, associating the presidential candidate with the image of a hardworking, simple, fun and relaxed man;
  • The main hashtags used are related to the political debate and the candidate, such as #brasil, #eleições (“elections”), #joaodoria, #mantradaeducacao (“education mantra”) and #pelaeducacao (“for education”), as well as general-use hashtags in the platform, such as #genz and #aprendanotiktok (“learn on TikTok”). It is worth noting the use of #calçaapertada (“tight pants”), an appropriation of a criticism made of the presidential candidate’s appearance that is used in his campaign.

  • The presidential candidate Simone Tebet uses the platform to post videos of campaign events, statements at public events and on the Senate floor, parts of interviews and videos together with political leaders who support her campaign. There is a great emphasis on the trips that the senator has made throughout Brazil, called the Caminhada pela Esperança (“Walk for Hope”);
  • The videos cover topics such as inflation, unemployment, the country’s recovery and regional development. There is criticism of the federal government without mentioning the name of President Jair Bolsonaro. There is also no mention of any other presidential candidate in the senator’s content;
  • There is a large focus on the fact that the senator is the only pre-candidate for the presidency so far. This is mentioned in videos about her political trajectory as a woman and talking about topics such as menstrual poverty, gender inequality and feminicide;
  • The hashtags most used by the senator on the platform refer to herself and the campaign: #simonetebet2022, #mdb, #mdbcomsimone2022 (“MDB with Simone 2022”), #simonesim (“yes to Simone”) and #caminhadadaesperança (“walk for hope”). However, there are also hashtags with a wider reach on the platform, used as a way to expand the visibility of publications, for example: #fy #fyp #viral.

Lula does not yet have a TikTok account.

*Methodological note: TikTok does not have an official API. Therefore, we used the web scraping method to collect the data. However, this method has some limitations. The data obtained to prepare this analysis of #politics on the platform encompassed around 1,000 publications distributed over the years 2020, 2021 and 2022. Of the 1,000 publications, those written in Portuguese or those published by profiles with their descriptions in Portuguese were considered, which resulted in approximately 400 publications.

The interaction map was generated from these publications, considering that a relationship is created between two profiles when they have publications using at least one hashtag in common. The weight of this relationship is determined by the number of pairs of publications (a pair formed by a publication from one profile and a publication from the other) that used one or more of the same hashtags. Therefore, this graph is non-directed, as it is formed only by connections without a specific direction and they only relate two profiles in terms of the use of common hashtags in their videos.

**At least three occurrences per term.