Research shows coverage of Brazilian protests emphasized conflict and not demands

  • By Guest
  • September 19, 2014

By Rachel Reis Mourao

Mainstream media coverage of Brazilian protests in June, 2013, both on websites and Twitter, highlighted riots and acts of vandalism, rather than demands made by protestors, according to a University of Texas researcher. The findings, which shed light on the role of media in the portrayal of protests, were presented at the 2014 Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference in Montreal, Canada.

Results reveal that national outlets focused on the violent aspects of the protests, including vandalism and police brutality. Journalists gave little space for the protestors’ demands, especially at the beginning of what would be more than a month of ongoing mobilizations.

This type of coverage is known as the “protest paradigm,” as it has the result of harming the social movement in the long term. While protestors need media coverage in order to reach prospective supporters, the emphasis on violence and deviant behavior can have the effect of turning public opinion against the social movement.

In the case of the Brazilian protests that broke out across the country in June of last year, the coverage started following the “paradigm” closely during the first weeks of the movement, but increasingly adopted legitimizing frames as demands become more generalized and supported by the public. This type of media behavior is not uncommon in Brazil, and was also observed during Diretas Ja! and Fora Collor!, large protests that called for direct elections and the impeachment of then President Collor, respectively.

Meanwhile, the general public on social media posted content more favorable to the protests, including tweets supporting the demands of the Movimento Passe Livre, a movement formed in opposition to a proposed bus fare hike. Blogs were used to promote certain “frames” – a term for schemas used to frame an issue (see below) – that legitimized protests, as well as posts that served as a “call to arms.” This divergence is particularly important as it shows that the media and audiences were in discordance in their views and portrayal of social movements in the country.

The study also tracked the use of generic and issue-specific hashtags during the mobilization. Results reveal that positive media coverage and public support followed the use of more generic hashtags, such as #Nãoépor20centavoréporDireitos (#Itsnotabout20centsitsaboutRights), #NãoéPor20Centavos (#Itsnotabout20cents), #BrasilLivre (#FreeBrazil), and #OGiganteAcordou (#TheGiantHasAwoken).

Issue-specific hashtags, referring to the issue of transportation (#PasseLivre), were used in a smaller, but consistent way during the month of June. Conversely, use of generic hashtags increased after massive demonstrations on June 17, 2013.

The research was conducted by the Twitter Research Group at The University of Texas at Austin. Using computerized content analyses of a database, and pulling from the electronic fire hose of tweets, blogs and news websites that was flowing at full volume throughout the protests, it was possible to analyze large bodies of content over time. For this project alone, more than 50 thousand stories and 4 million tweets from June 2013 were collected and analyzed.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.

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