Brazilians have never been so curious about the term “fascism.” Since September 28, Google searches about the theme have skyrocketed – and peaked on October 7, the day Brazilians cast their ballots in the first round of presidential elections. On that day, the volume of searches broke all previous records since 2004, when Google started measuring user search history. Since the end of September, the term has grown exponentially – drawing an interest just smaller than the word “socialism,” but peaking higher than “communism,” “nazism,” or “democracy.”
Historically, “democracy” and “socialism” draw more interest than the others, also because Brazilians start studying the basics of these concepts as early as elementary school. Until the October 7 peak, “fascism,” however, was the least googled term of the list. But on election day, Brazilians looked for the concept – and the name of Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right frontrunner in the presidential race, became one of the main related searches to the theme. Other related search terms include “anti-fascism” and “the military dictatorship.”
It is easy to understand why. Never before have we seen the terms being used so often by the press and especially on social media. A far-right candidate with extreme views and a history of inciting violence, Mr. Bolsonaro is often depicted as a fascist – for instance, by Yale University philosopher Jason Stanley, who told Folha de S.Paulo that Mr. Bolsonaro uses, just like Donald Trump, fascist techniques.
Others, such as the journalist and researcher João Carlos Magalhães, are more cautious in throwing that adjective at the favorite to win the presidency. Mr. Magalhães says he is “a fascist in-waiting.” He wrote on The Brazilian Report: He is not there yet – but does profess the core ideological predecessor that, historically, has led to institutional fascism.”
Even the now famous attorney Mike Godwin has entered the debate. Mr. Godwin is known for formulating the so-called “Godwin’s Law” (also known as Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies), a theory about laziness in online discussions. The “law” states that as an online argument grows longer and more heated, it becomes increasingly likely that somebody will bring up Adolf Hitler or the Nazis. When such an event occurs, the person guilty of invoking Godwin’s Law has effectively forfeited the argument.
On Twitter, though, Mr. Godwin said his law doesn’t apply when it comes to Jair Bolsonaro.
On Facebook, data from CrowdTangle, a tool to measure engagement, shows that the word “fascism” is on over 10,000 posts in public pages – just over the past 30 days. That is five times as much as the previous 30-day period.
If Mr. Bolsonaro is often associated with “fascism,” his camp tries to put the stamp of “communist” or “socialist” on the Workers’ Party. And that has led to an increasing amount of searches about these ideologies. In this case, the top related searches are books written by Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad: “The Soviet System,” “In Defense of Socialism,” and “Disorganizing Consensus.”
Not the same trend everywhere
Brazil’s curiosity about these themes is different than what we see in other countries. Searches by English-speaking netizens put “democracy” way up in comparison to others. Since 2004, the term has kept an average of searches three times higher than “socialism,” the second-most searched for theme over the past 14 years.
In the U.S., “fascism” rose to the second position in November 2016, when Donald Trump won the presidential race against Hillary Clinton.