WhatsApp and Digital Astroturfing: A Social Network Analysis of Brazilian Political Discussion Groups of Bolsonaro’s Supporters
Digital astroturfing and computational propaganda have drawn a lot of attention in recent years because of the malicious effects on the political environment, especially in the face of the emerging far right. But most studies on astroturfing are limited to seeking theoretical concepts. The present article suggests that the concept of astroturfing can be conceptually defined and empirically investigated through a social network analysis (SNA) approach. The article is specially focused on understanding the use of mobile instant messaging services (MIMS) like WhatsApp as a stage for astroturfing practices in 2018 Brazilian elections. Its main hypothesis is that SNA methods can help in understanding how a Bolsonarist influence operation and misinformation network was structured. Results show different thematic groups and several functional clusters and lead to the identification of practices that match with those of agents from the professional field of politics.