public sanitation program

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By JOÃO FERES JUNIOR*

Bolsonarism is a system supported by communication strategies. It is in this field that we must concentrate our efforts to overcome the two catastrophes.

Anyone with a few neurons has already realized that Brazil was toasted by a terrible confluence of two catastrophes: the Covid-9 pandemic and the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro. We political scientists often brag about talking about “democratic institutions”, but what is at risk today in Brazil is more than the functioning of these institutions per se, it is democracy as a cultural value, the mechanisms of social aggregation, of the State and of the civil society, and even people's lives.

The pandemic is being bad everywhere, but the complete lack of responsibility of the Federal Government and its representative is quickly raising Brazil to the rank of world champion in deaths caused by the virus.

The Bolsonaro government started out bad and got worse throughout 2019. With the pandemic, its speed of deterioration increased to the point that today we have an open conflict between the powers, with threats of military intervention by the executive and his cronies.

The virus was a problem we did not create, but Bolsonaro is our responsibility and even those who did not vote for him, like me, for example, must face the arduous task of finding a solution for him. I don't want to get into the intricacies of the discussion whether this solution would be impeachment, abdication or even cancellation of the slate via the TSE for electoral crime, whether the impeachment would be on the grounds of a common crime via the STF or a crime of responsibility, directly accepted by the Chamber of Deputies. This issue has already been excellently addressed by two friends and professional colleagues, Marjorie Marona and Fabio Kerche, in the article Brazil at the crossroads, recently published on the website the earth is round.

I want to examine the lowest hole, which is the creation of the political conditions to overcome this dark stage in our republican history.

Let's start by answering the question: who supports Bolsonaro politically? Even though his government is experiencing a decline in popular approval, the president still has the sympathy of somewhere between 20-30% of the Brazilian population. Let's call this support and the ideology that sustains it Bolsonarism. Bolsonaro still has the support of three important social groups: evangelicals, military and businessmen.

First, I will deal with the most appropriate tactic to dismantle this sustaining alliance and then try to identify who could be the agent of dismantling.

In addition to aesthetic and moral issues, the groups of evangelicals, the military and businessmen who are still with Bolsonaro derive advantages, real or imaginary, from this alliance. The alliance with such a conflicting and controversial project, on the other hand, also brings costs to the groups. The tactic to be adopted by the dismantling agent must certainly be to increase the costs of support in order to weaken it and reduce the possibility of gains for these groups.

Here I defend the idea that the loss of popular support would result in a weakening of the political support that the groups provide to the current president. Again, I insist on the thesis that the communication issue is fundamental. As shown by various analyzes carried out by the pressure gauge, most of the most important press vehicles have been quite contrary to Bolsonaro and his government, despite being enthusiastic about Guedes and Moro.

Unlike all previous New Republic governments, which were highly dependent on the mainstream media to communicate with citizens, Bolsonaro built alternative channels. He maintains communication with his popular support base through social networks, either through the Cabinet of Hate, currently investigated by the STF, or through numerous far-right websites and blogs, many of which receive propaganda resources from the Federal Government. and private companies.

There is little public information about the resources that support these power plants. fake news and highly anti-democratic Bolsonarist propaganda, but they certainly have the financial support of businessmen, churches and elected politicians, who use their cabinet funds for these purposes – in addition to the new news channel CNN, which gives the extreme right the right to voice on nearly every news-relevant subject.

It is fundamental that the agent operates focusing on Bolsonarism's communication with its base. The president's supporters are suspected of having committed an electoral crime: the dissemination of fake news by power plants posts No. Whatsapp benches with box two during the campaign period. In government, Bolsonarism kept its production and dissemination centers in operation. fake news, as a form of popular support, often committing other crimes likely to incite violence, xenophobia, racism, etc. In other words, there is plenty of room for mounting a lawfare against the power plants fake news, a campaign that will have the sympathy of the mainstream media and even parts of the lavajatismo ejected from the Bolsonarist alliance with the departure of Moro, who himself became one of the preferred targets of the evil “memes” of the former captain’s followers.

The STF is engaged in the investigation of power plants fake news and the Chamber of Deputies already has a CPI, whose operation is suspended due to the pandemic, and a PL to vote on the matter. It is necessary to accelerate and diversify the fronts to combat this practice both in the fronts legal, political and civil society. It is fundamental that the companies that produce these social networks (Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Youtube etc) are pressured to take increasingly rigorous measures to restrict and punish the practice of fake news. There is still a lot to progress in this regulation, in Brazil and in the world. And the mainstream press is partially sympathetic to this agenda.

The same alliance between legal operators and politicians in favor of democratic salvation must also focus on creating measures that more effectively punish people directly involved in the dissemination of fake news. A more serious discussion in our country about the limits of freedom of expression is long overdue. The success of Bolsonarism may have the beneficial side effect of giving relevance to this fundamental item on the public agenda.

The mainstream press has now changed its mind about the nature of free speech - it once conceived of it as unlimited, but now asserts that it needs to be regulated to combat the fake news. It is ironic to note that events such as Abílio Diniz's kidnapping, the paper ball on Serra's head, Verônica Serra's espionage, the cover of Veja on the eve of the second round of the 2014 election, recent editorials by The Globe e Estadão equating Lula with Bolsonaro when it comes to the threat to democracy, and so many others, show that the major media have been making political use of fake news. But now is not the time to review the sad history of political involvement of our country's media companies. Furthermore, regulating freedom of expression will be beneficial to democracy in our country, period.

The political and legal campaign against the dissemination of fake news it also has the retroactive effect of increasing costs for entrepreneurs who support these initiatives, often through illegal means. Upon becoming potential targets of civil and criminal prosecution, such characters will think twice before engaging in activities of this nature.

But this should only be part of the tactic to dismantle the Bolsonarist communication scheme. Far-right websites and blogs derive much of their income from advertisements distributed by services such as Google Ads, who often place advertisements on these sites for companies that do not prioritize financing the extreme right, or, on the contrary, would incur financial loss by having their name associated with it. It is in this area that initiatives such as the Sleeping Giants, created in the USA, which not only lists the companies whose advertisements finance the sites of fake news, but they also publicly question the commercial department of these companies about the association of their brands with the extreme right agenda, often misogynistic, homophobic, racist, that is, exclusionary from a social point of view. Even enthusiasts of the president, such as some chain owners of health clubs, restaurants, and retail stores, are subject to pressure from well-organized boycott campaigns by organized consumers.

There is already a Brazilian branch of Sleeping Giants, but the initiative seems to me still very timid. Progressive political forces should organize a joint platform to monitor the distribution of advertisements on the Internet to maximize this effect. Public campaigns to boycott recalcitrant companies are essential and must be carried out in an organized and republican manner, that is, by providing consumers with greater information. It would be a form of effective political participation based on consumption, something quite republican and suited to the spirit of the time.

The combination of the various actions now in progress against the fake news already seems to be showing results. In Tweet recent from Pedro Barciela, showing a network diagram of the repercussions of the demonstrations on May 30th (Sunday) shows the Bolsonarist camp quite diminished, with approximately 16% of the activity, while the anti-Bolsonaro camp occupies almost half of the graph, and the rest is with the non-Bolsonaro group political. The same analyst notes that content production by Bolsonaristas fell by 10%. This shows that the plants are still in full operation and that they continue to receive resources that pay people to produce fake news. That is, the fight against these dissemination centers needs to continue.

Finally, politically active progressive groups should organize centers of deconstruction of fake news. This measure will be necessary if joint measures by legislators, the judiciary and civil society fail to seriously compromise the functioning of Bolsonarist plants. Moreover, such centers of deconstruction will be very necessary in electoral contexts in which the fake news are again heavily used. I'll leave the details of how these centers work for future contributions.

Assuming the success of this communicational dismantling of Bolsonarism, what would be its consequences for the alliance that supports the president?

Evangelicals are, on the one hand, the most armored in terms of communication, as they largely use their own channels to speak to their audience, TVs, radios, newspapers and the pulpit, even if this is impaired in times of a pandemic. Despite this communicational autonomy, evangelical leaders, very important due to the power they concentrate, have historically been fickle in their political alliances. If Bolsonaro continues to lose popularity, it is possible that many will find that the balance of losses and gains of support is turning negative and start to jump ship.

A more serious effort on the part of progressive political forces to approach sectors of evangelical churches that are more open to democratic dialogue is long overdue. Many denominations that in the recent past supported progressive political projects, opted for Bolsonaro in 2018. In the current context of Bolsonarism crisis, some must already be quite repentant, but, at the same time, without tangible alternatives.

Entrepreneurs are already quite split in their support for Bolsonaro. In addition to the campaign lawfare against those who commit crimes of illegal financing of fake news, the aim here must be to increase the costs of those who continue to insist on support through legal channels. As they do not depend directly on popular support, but on the people taken as consumers, the most effective pressure actually comes from initiatives such as those mentioned above.

The military’s support for the Bolsonaro government is heavily based on a type of mutual bureaucratic capture. Bolsonaro appointed a huge number of military personnel to all kinds of positions in his government, perhaps one of his most deleterious actions. By doing so, he made the military corporation capillarly dependent on his government, as appointees began to receive significant bonuses in addition to their normal salary. Thus, he relies on the corporation to intimidate democratic institutions, while the corporation depends on him to maintain wage earnings for the bonus troop.

The military is, however, a highly hierarchical structured corporation, and many of its leaders are well aware that the cost of support rises as the government becomes more authoritarian and the president less popular. Bolsonarism's loss of communication power with its base will make supporting the military much more costly and future uncertainty much greater, as an authoritarian adventure without the slightest bit of popular legitimacy is doomed to failure.

In short, the most urgent public sanitation program is the one that focuses on communication. It is the instrument through which we can dismantle Bolsonarism, as it is a system predominantly built on communication strategies.

*João Feres Junior is professor of political science at IESP-UERJ. He is the coordinator of GEMAA – Affirmative Action Multidisciplinary Study Group (http://gemaa.iesp.uerj.br/) and of LEMEP – Laboratory of Media and Public Space Studies.

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