Comparative Approaches to Mis/Disinformation| When Machine Behavior Targets Future Voters: The Use of Social Bots to Test Narratives for Political Campaigns in Brazil
In 2018, the election of Jair Bolsonaro for the Brazilian presidency was associated with dubious propaganda strategies implemented through social media. The purpose of this article is to understand the early development of key communication strategies of his presidential campaign since 2016. We used a combination of observational, discourse, and content analysis based on digital trace data to investigate how Bolsonaro had been testing his campaign targets and segmentation, as well as cultivating bot accounts and botnets on Twitter during the 2016 Rio de Janeiro municipal election. Our research suggests that the automation of different supporter profiles to target potential voter identities and the experimental dissemination of divisive narratives ensured the effectiveness of his communication persuasion. This finding contributes to the growing body of knowledge regarding his controversial online efforts, adding to the urgent research agenda on Brazil’s democratic setback.