Legitimation of hate and political violence through memetic images: the Bolsonaro campaign
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Servicio de Publicaciones de la Universidad de Navarra
Fernández-Villanueva, C. (Concepción); Bayarri-Toscano, G. (Gabriel). "Legitimation of hate and political violence through memetic images: the Bolsonaro campaign". Communication & Society. 34 (2), 2021, 449 - 468
The federal elections were held in Brazil in 2018. The ballot resulted in a victory for the far-right candidate, Jair Messias Bolsonaro. The question that arose after the victory of the far-right was: How could this have happened? One of the instruments that undoubtedly contributed to this unexpected victory was a peculiar aspect of his political campaign: memetic communication. Through the use of memes in the social media (above all WhatsApp), Bolsonaro’s project transformed these violent discourses against political opponents, feminism, racialised persons and poverty into a series of discourses legitimised through humour and irony. It was a simplification through the memes affecting the static system of cognitive and metaphorical frameworks. During the pre-election period in 2018, we carried out digital ethnographic research in the WhatsApp groups of supporters of Bolsonaro’s project (“Bolsonarism”). In this period, we collected a sample of 132 memes belonging to WhatsApp groups composed of up to 256 members, who did not know each other and were geographically dispersed. The analysis we carried out demonstrates the trivialisation and legitimisation of violence against political opponents and other social groups. Much of this legitimisation was camouflaged under the mask of supposed humour and irony, which in reality was insulting, prejudicial and dehumanising.

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