The Hate Office? Bolsonaro’s Discourse and COVID-19 Online Disinformation
Campaigners exploited the global health crisis and the uncertainty regarding the coronavirus to spread inaccurate or manipulated information on social media. Online disinformation is often associated with political elites, though the extant evidence is limited because this form of propaganda usually operates in the background. Using a sequential explanatory design, this article analyzes the connections between COVID-19 disinformation on social media and the public speeches of Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro in 2020. First, we conduct a content analysis of false or misleading social media publications related to the pandemic. Second, we employ a qualitative documental analysis of Bolsonaro’s public speeches. Finally, we analyze overlaps between the most recurrent themes of each stage. Our results show that Bolsonaro and the disinformation echoed the same arguments and targeted the same actors. These connections are a relevant indication of his disinformation machinery at work. However, the highly symbiotic relationship between the content and the statements suggests that the agenda-setting of disinformation in Brazil is partly constructed by both the political elite and the public, challenging previous studies.