American Ethnological Society
Oral Presentation Session
The night of the runoffs in the 2018 elections in Brazil, the new president-elect––a former army captain and career politician––gave his victory speech in two different media. He streamed twice to voters around Brazil on his Facebook page. In between these “lives,” he went outside and read a prepared speech to reporters. The preference for social media paralleled that of the campaign itself, and would continue once the administration took power. The election democratically reinstated the political right in the executive branch, a shift that has been analyzed as part of a national desire for “order and progress” enshrined in the flag itself, and a global wave of digital populism. Indeed, in Brazil complex, highly monetized media ecologies involving politicians, marketers, and ideologically motivated collaborators carry out often frenetic online campaigns of computational propaganda. Memes, audios, and videos are shared, along with links to self-declared news sites, YouTube channels, and invitations to join more groups. Within this digital sphere, administrators actively work to mobilize “us” against “them,” and also foster a sense of direct connection to politicians, and of belonging. On both the right and the left, these processes are denounced as the other’s “fake news.” Drawing on fieldwork in person, using specialized platforms, and within multiple messaging groups, this talk looks at how computational propaganda works and points to the need to move beyond denunciations to better understand contemporary modes of truth.