A new study found a connection between President Jair Bolsonaro’s public addresses and an increase in the sharing of social media messages attacking state governors or promoting unproven Covid-19 remedies. Think tank Fundação Getulio Vargas analyzed 50 million tweets and 81,300 messages sent on WhatsApp between March 10 and April 16, mentioning either “social isolation” or “quarantine measures.” During the period analyzed, Mr. Bolsonaro gave four official speeches on March 12, March 24, March 31, and April 8.
The study shows a clear bump in messages promoting antimalarial drug chloroquine, after Mr. Bolsonaro praised the drug as a “possible cure” for Covid-19. Scientific studies, however, have found no evidence that the drug helps coronavirus patients, besides some positive effects in severe patients.
On Twitter, social isolation was the main topic of debate — according to the study, this is related to the breadth of the topic, which covers everything from economic consequences to political protest. A different pattern emerges on WhatsApp, where attacks on governors — particularly São Paulo’s João Doria and Rio de Janeiro’s Wilson Witzel — predominated. The study hypothesized that this is probably due to a large number of Pro-Bolsonaro public groups on the messaging platform.
The study demonstrates that the president still has the ability to highly influence — and at times control — social media narratives related to the pandemic.