Today Brazil woke up with a hangover. Sunday’s voting in the lower house of the Congress sealed the president Dilma Rousseff fate– now it’s up to the Senate to vote for whether or not her impeachment is to go ahead. In my opinion, it was a grotesque show – more than half of the congressmen have been investigated for corruption and money laundering. The lowest point was opposition deputy Jair Bolsonaro dedicating his vote to Colonel Carlos Brilhante Ustra, one of the Dilma’s torturers, when she was a political prisoner during the military regime.
But what happened in the run up of Sunday’s ‘show’ is even more intriguing and made me think how much power over public opinion the media has in Brazil. In this BBC Brazil news article, according to a research using a social media monitoring tool from the University of Sao Paulo (USP), showed that 3 of the top 5 most shared political news on Facebook between Tuesday 12th and Saturday 16th April were fake.
For USP professor Marcio Moretto Ribeiro, the popularity of these fake ‘rumours’ lies on the immature approach that Brazilians still have with social media. He adds that, owing to Brazilians’ relatively recent contact with the online world and social media, they are less critical and more naïve in their approach to what they see online. I really hope this approach will change in the years to come.
This explains the tide of memes that have been flooding social media sites. They are relatively simple to create – you only need a picture and a often funny/sad/angry catchphrase – and are highly shareable. Brazilians have developed an obsession about them. In less than 12 hours after the impeachment voting, there were already viral memes with lots of articles already picking the top 10 most shared.
Globo TV: huge influence over public opinion
The recent polarization of Brazil could be very harmful for its relatively young democratic regime. A polarized country, where there is only either ‘good or bad’ people, topped with a good dose of intolerance, “I’m right you are wrong so therefore you should go”, creates a very dangerous mix. And indeed the media outlets, especially the TV have taken advantage of that mentality.
In an interview the news portal TeleSur Sylvia Moretzsohn, a media professor at the Fluminense Federal University, argues that Brazil’s largest media outlet (Globo) is acting more like a political party that has been fomenting conditions for a coup against the democratically-elected government of Dilma Rousseff.
Globo has dedicated an extraordinary amount of airtime to the ongoing investigation into corruption at the state-run oil company. A recent edition of their evening news program extensively analysed the leaked conversations between President Rousseff and former President Lula da Silva. The report was strongly criticised on social media for its perceived biased reporting.
This isn’t a recent phenomenon. Globo already played a crucial role on Fernando Collor’s election in 1990. Some say that without Globo clear position and support on him, his election wouldn’t be possible. Ironically enough, Collor was impeached a couple of years later.