Iara Rosa Farias (São Paulo Federal University, Brazil)
This study stems from the observation of social media and how people interact through them, insofar as the discourses form a network within another network and therefore meanings are reaffirmed and shared through words and images, thus creating dialogues and interwoven meanings. As a result, a gradual change in the way that people react to political events on the social media has been noted in Brazilian society. About 10 years ago, political news was the prime objective for newspapers, journals and TV newscasts, i.e. the traditional media. It was in this scenario that research into discourse intertwined with the search for understanding how the social networks, particularly Facebook, were being “invaded” by political discourse, creating a new way of relating to political information in Brazil.
In this brief study, we will first offer an overview of the changes that information and communication technologies (ICTs) have brought about in global society. Following this, we will analyse what is in fact a paradigm shift in communication from a discursive point of view by presenting the theoretical concepts forming the basis of our analysis. We will then turn our attention to how and why social networks are playing a practically informative role in Brazilian society by analysing selected posts from a discursive perspective, before finally presenting our conclusions. To our mind, this approach will help to identify the reasons why Facebook has become one of the driving forces behind social change in Brazil in the realm of political debate, filling a gap deliberately left by the mainstream media.
New times: the Internet era
Information on cultural, political and social affairs used to be produced and published solely by the press, magazines and, in the twentieth century, by television. With the advent of ICTs, it was then possible to access information through institutional websites and electronic newspapers, and now this can be done via social networks. The latter, especially Facebook (hereinafter FB), have played a relevant role in changing the way in which information is offered and obtained. Although it is still possible to keep abreast of international political developments via the websites of the mainstream newspapers, this information can now be accessed on FB and other social networks.
In Brazil, due to historical factors that will be covered further on, countless people have turned to FB to obtain political information from the profiles of political parties, politicians, social movements and political discussion groups. The cyberspace has facilitated access to information, as well as helping to change the perception of political discussions that had previously been conducted in physical spaces such as party offices and the Brazilian parliament (municipal, state and federal chambers). Political conversations between friends, previously held in informal settings, have also begun to extend to Brazilian FB. The power of the mainstream media, hitherto the main producers and disseminators of political content, has gradually been decentralized by FB users searching for information in electronic magazines, the blogs of journalists and the websites of Brazilian and international newspapers. Today, besides reading magazines, newspapers and watching television to find out what is happening locally or globally, Brazilians who want to keep abreast of the news also resort to FB. They are no longer “passive” consumers of information content to read whatever is offered, but now search for and select sources and then spread this information on their own accord via some or other social network.
It is in the aforementioned context that we have approached FB to perform an analysis of the impact that this social network has had on the way that Brazilians now discuss politics. To this end, we have resorted to the controversial remarks made by the federal deputy Marcos Feliciano about gays and black people just before he was appointed to the post of chairman of the Human Rights and Minorities Chamber (CDHM) in 2013.
Feliciano’s appointment triggered protests and discussions on FB, which was also used as a platform to organize protest matches leading to the creation of the “It does not represent me” movement. On the basis of this political event, our analysis has focused on: a) observing and describing the processes of reverse discourse generated by the posts; b) highlighting the impact of digital media on Brazilian social and political discussion; and c) explaining how social media in Brazil have become a means of accessing information and social mobilization.
Changes and continuities
Over the centuries, communication has undergone far-reaching changes, from standard face-to-face dialogue to the advent of the Internet, through written correspondence, telephone, radio and television. The World Wide Web (WWW) connecting computers and other devices such as smartphones and tablets has brought about momentous changes in the way in which we communicate and in our subjective relationships. It is now possible to maintain visual contact while talking to someone on the phone or the Internet and to communicate without time dependencies imposed by others; namely, people can interact either in real time or in different temporalities and even so create a dialogue. ICTs have led to a sort of deterritorialization in which spaces are no longer physically established. In other words, there are no fixed spaces, but only those that exist on the strength of what is said about them. These consist of descriptions, photos on Whatsapp, Instagram, FB, etc. People are able to engage with the photos and descriptions of a place, without realizing that these two acts are products of discourse. Social networks become referential spaces where posts are built on someone or something; space, temporality and the subjects themselves merge to create a visual and oral day-to-day discourse. All these forms of communication, which have their similarities and some differences, rely on the circulation of texts and images that, when shared, constitute a kind of discursive network within social networks.
It is interesting to note that to share a post on FB is no longer a simple act of copying when other information, such as the text of the sharer and the comments that the post receives, is added to it. It is also possible to find variations of a particular post on FB under the same “title” or hashtag (#). The creation of hashtags, the response to a text, a post with additions or different wording, and the repetition of certain issues also covered in other information media in which it is possible to glimpse the “original” text, constitute the semantic and textual fabric of FB. From a discursive perspective, it can be said that these actions are processes of intertextuality and interdiscursivity present in everyone’s discursive actions. As we will be using both concepts to analyse the aforementioned posts, it is first essential to describe them and situate them within the theoretical frame in which our reflections are grounded. Besides these two concepts, we will employ others that will be described in the following section, along with the methods that we have used to compile the posts.
Theoretical basis and methodology
The concepts of intertextuality and interdiscursivity, deriving from the oeuvre of Bakhtin (2000), have been widely studied and termed differently in textual and discursive theories. The Russian philosopher observed that there was a repetition of words and meanings in the speeches or utterances of different people and therefore claimed that there was a dialogue between them. In dialogism, the central idea is that every statement is a response to another statement, even if such a response is not immediately apparent. The term dialogism emphasizes that statements are generally not “pure” because, directly or indirectly, they “talk” to each other, whether explicitly or not.
In Paris, at the time of French structuralism, Julia Kristeva coined a new term for the notion that presents the dialogue between utterances as “intertextuality”, to wit, discursive interaction materialized in texts. According to this authoress, “(…) all text is built as a mosaic of quotations, every text is absorption and transformation of another text” (Kristeva, 2005, p. 68).
For his part, Fiorin (1994) distinguishes between the process of intertextuality (dialogue between texts) and that of interdiscursivity (dialogue between discourses). In intertextuality, it is possible to recognize parts of a text in others, such as quotations, for example. Whereas interdiscursivity points to the interactions between meanings that are only perceptible when there is a certain number of texts with which to contrast them in order to observe their similarities and differences. In the process of interdiscursivity, it is often impossible to identify parts of one text in another, but it is perceived that a text is part of a set of meanings. In other words, there are texts that have a “source of meaning” that, if not identical, still constitutes and belongs to a very close meaning space.
In Foucault’s view (1969:153), meaning spaces are formed by discourses that belong to the same discursive formation, although they may be materially different. A discursive formation can present texts of the most varied types and genres (films, songs, photos, reports and videos, among others), but they repeat, with some variations and differences, an identical way of viewing a certain subject, constituting a space of meaning and defining an interdiscursivity.
The concepts of intertextuality and interdiscursivity can be relevant in the case of forms of communication that convey an innumerable number of texts. In point of fact, there are now new forms of socialization, as with the skills required to handle devices using new technologies emerging on a daily basis and the scope and the echo that a subject can have. However, such innovations are constituted by discursive processes omnipresent in the daily action of reading and writing and in the routine dialogue between subjects. Illustrating such processes can help to explain common language mechanisms in order to observe how “information” can be interpreted and accepted and how it can outline a “profile” of the meanings of those who share a news item or post. Moreover, from intertextuality and interdiscursivity it is possible to reveal and understand the makeup of discursive monopolies in which discursive formations seek to conceal their convergences by establishing themselves as a sole point of view that, according to them, should be taken as “true”.
Interaction on FB can defocus such discursive processes because something posted (a photo, video or written text) can be reproduced in other profiles in an almost infinite and barely controlled way. It is possible to know that profiles Y and Z have shared a profile X post; however, from the posts of Y and Z and other profiles that reproduce them, it is almost impossible to identify X. What is involved is a non-linear sharing on a geometric scale. And a post that relates the daily life of a person can be shared as a political news. The sharing of posts, constituted by intertextuality and interdiscursivity, can promote deletions or evidence of the discursive formation to which they belong. It should also be noted that the non-recognition of a discursive formation can occur in any communicative interaction from face-to-face dialogue to TV news, through newspapers and magazines.
Intertextuality and interdiscursivity, intuitively performed by FB users, since they are unaware of such processes, are constructed in the measure that they choose what to post, because of their interest in the subject and the importance they attribute to it, establishing similarities and differences of meaning between several posts that constitute this social network.
In this way, users who choose a subject, regardless of whether they are for or against it, gradually point to the meaning space, viz. the discursive formation sustaining the meaning of the post, to which they belong. In other words, when posting evidence of the process of adherence to or rejection of a certain subject through the use of “hashtags” (comments), they point to the meaning space of one or another discursive formation. Thus, those who agree or disagree with a given discussion begin to choose profiles that coincide with their stance, and are thus encouraged to post a comment or give a like.
In order to highlight these processes and the relevant role that Brazilian FB is gaining in socio-political discussions, we analysed the posts of the “It does not represent me” movement, whose origin has been described above.
The following selection criteria were used:
a) Posts including the phrase “it does not represent me” relating to the controversy surrounding the federal deputy Marcos Feliciano.
b) And they also presented a poster (because then the movement in the FB generated marches and protests in the streets of every country);
c) Posts that presented posters with textual structure of personal/subjective presentation passing to a generality (religious, for example) and
d) posts that presented a reverse discourse, that is, the text presented humorous traits. To meet the limits of this article, we selected among the hundreds of posts found those that met the above criteria and that could be a representative sample. This is, the posts we present demonstrate well the elements of discussion that we point out in the course of this paper.
Why have social networks encroached on journalism in Brazil?
The exchange of information in social networks had already been envisaged by Lévy (2003) as a cooperation between community and scientific knowledges. The researcher has pointed to a horizon where we are increasingly closer and communication is established between subjects of cultures and societies much different and distant from each other.
The social networks interconnecting millions of people are championed as an alternative information source when traditional means of communication (radio, TV and newspapers) fail to fulfil their role of offering quality content. In other words, when some or other event (social, political, economic or cultural) is covered by the traditional mainstream media, the context is incomplete since there is lack of contrast, all of which generates a certain degree of distrust in those accessing the information. In this regard, the works of Valera (2016) and Negredo, Vara-Miguel and Amoedo (2016) offer highly enlightening data. Although this research was performed in Spain, it should be noted that technological changes are driven by economic and political factors that affect all countries, even in different ways due to the peculiarities of each country. As the differences on the technological impacts are not the central theme of this work we will approach it here on this subject.
Valera (2016) draws a parallel between the crisis of the Spanish media system and the economic crisis that has plagued the country since 2008. The extinction of jobs in journalism, more precarious working conditions and the hiring of professionals with little or no experience have had several (rather distressing) consequences, including a sharp drop in news plurality and a glut of superficial information.
Firstly, this plurality deficit reflects the hegemony of those controlling the production and distribution of information, who are not always committed to quality content. Secondly, the accumulation of superficial information is due to a workforce that does not have the training or experience to decide on what is newsworthy as regards a certain subject. Thus, the drop in information quality and the rise in unemployment among journalists are both factors that have paved the way to the emergence of new actors in information management thanks to the ICT revolution.
The work of Negredo et al. (2016) highlights the new ways that people currently have at their disposal to access information and organize it. According to these authors, Spanish viewers and readers rely on more than one information source, whether offline or online. Yet this does not guarantee that these sources, even the familiar news site brands, are trustworthy. Brazil and Spain share two trends: the lack of quality information and a distrust in traditional mainstream media, even if their content is available online.
If in Spain the bad quality of services is mainly due to precarious working conditions, as can be seen in Valera’s work (2016), in Brazil this is down to the role played by major companies, as will be discussed shortly.
Based on the exhaustive research performed by these Spanish authors, it is possible to claim that when the traditional media neglect their responsibility to give voice to different sectors of society, social actors tend to search for alternative ways to access information. What is meant by this is that these media do not offer a true reflection of society and the social classes comprising it, because they only cover what they believe is newsworthy and present news in a monolithic way. It is no wonder then that citizens have begun to look for alternative ways of keeping informed.
In Brazil, social networks, especially FB, facilitate access to other information sources. When reading a post, users can access the primary information source, be it an online news site (Folha de São Paulo, the BBC, El País, and Le Monde, among others) or the blog of one or other independent Brazilian journalist. The aforementioned scenario underscores the phenomenon of information exchange and portrays the current state of affairs in society as a whole, though this is more evident in the case of Brazil. In this connection, Castells (2005) offers some very pertinent reflections:
A central feature of networked society is the transformation of the field of communication, including the media. Communication is a public space, viz. a cognitive space in which people mentally receive information and form their opinions through processing signals from society as a whole. In other words, while interpersonal communication is a private relationship formed by the interaction of actors, media communication systems create relationships between institutions and organizations and people as a whole, not as individuals, but as collective receivers of information, even when the final information is processed by each individual according to his or her own personal characteristics. That is why the structure and dynamics of social communication is essential in the formation of public awareness and opinion, and the basis of political decision-making processes. (Castells, 2005, p.23)
And he continues in a similar vein:
Societies have been shifting from a mass media system to a specialized and fragmented multimedia system, where audiences have become progressively segmented. As the system is diverse and flexible, it is increasingly more inclusive of all the messages transmitted in society. In other words, the technological flexibility of the new media allows for a much greater integration of all communication sources in the same hypertext. Therefore, even though digital communication has become less centrally organized, it absorbs an increasingly larger part of the media in its logic (Castells, 2005, p. 24).
The fragmentation and decentralization of the Brazilian media system has had politically and socially relevant consequences. Needless to say, FB posts do not comply with journalistic standards as regards news plurality or verification. However, in a society in which television is the largest supplier of news content, and therefore its leverage of public opinion is greater, FB’s role in the circulation and distribution of information deserves attention. As Leal Filho, a journalist and a professor and researcher at São Paulo University/BR (USP/SP/BR), who has been studying Brazilian television for a long time, has stated:
Today the counter-hegemonic is on the Internet. In my case, what I do is tweet and post things on Facebook. I write for Carta Maior and Revista do Brasil, which both have print and online versions. They are means of resistance, no doubt. And I think that they have a very important role to play, because today, with this unique major newspaper mentality, it is the counter-hegemonic media that serve as a counterpoint. (Veloso, Vieira & Da Silva, 2014)
It would be a mistake to adopt the naive stance of thinking that social networks serve primarily as a forum of debate and awareness building in society, insofar as the traditional mainstream media are also seeking to participate in social networks. However, FB – among other Internet sites- have opened space for circulation of different discursive formations, which have increased pluralism, as regards best established news sites in Brazil. We present below a little of the history of Brazilian broadcasting.
A brief overview of public service broadcasting in Brazil
The concept of public service broadcasting (PSB) in Brazil is very different from that in European countries such as Spain and Italy. Although PSB in these countries is not free from criticism , at least it is governed by a specific regulatory body that defines its mission and role in society
As mentioned above, the Brazilian PSB regulatory body is governed by the provisions of Article 221of the Brazilian Constitution of 1988. Oliveira Filho and Coutinho (“History of the Media” congress, 2014) have described the historical evolution of broadcasting in Brazil and the problems that it faced before the introduction of PSB in 2007, and the difficulties in funding it. Matos and Hazin (n/d), besides outlining the history of Brazilian television, take a critical look at the problems arising from its implementation in terms of economic and political interests. According to them, PSB principles should be grounded in the citizens’ right to information, untainted by market interests, and plurality. Due to insufficient funding, Brazilian public television channels have limited and often poor schedules, as Leal Filho (2007) has indicated in a study of commercial television revenues versus those of public television, the difference between them being frankly outrageous.
Brazilian public television channels can be either federal (e.g. TV Brasil), state (e.g. TV Cultura, in the state of São Paulo) or local (university or municipal channels). However, local channels are controlled by private companies such as the Globo conglomerate (all-powerful in the Brazilian media universe with diverse business interests: broadcasting, television, print magazines and newspapers, online content, etc.), Rede Record, SBT, Rede Bandeirantes and Rede TV. These private channels belong to families that control the means of generating capital and information simultaneously. In contrast, TV Brasil and TV Cultura are subordinated to political change, precisely because there is no legislation on PSB. Journalists and other workers at these two television channels are placed under constant political pressure because there is no legal apparatus guaranteeing freedom of work and, as a result, information is controlled by the powers that be.
In an interview with Stanisci, the journalist and researcher Leal Filho (2008) expressed his concern about the participation of a director of Rede Globo (a commercial operator) in TV Brasil’s Curator Council. According to Leal Filho, besides the profound difference in business culture, there would be a clash of interests since the PSB principles of news plurality and quality are not always respected by commercial operators.
About the issues that affect brazilian public television, Leal Filho was interviewed by Stanisci (2008) and he expressed concerns about the participation in the TV Brazil Curator Council of a director of Rede Globo. Globo is a commercial company and according to Leal Filho, there would be a clash of interests between a director of a commercial television and the objectives of a public television. The compromise with quality and informative pluralism, there are not always followed by a commercial communication companies.
This scenario is also the result of the dictatorship in Brazil and many other Latin American countries. Between 1964 and 1985, the military regime “erased”, to put it mildly, dissident ideas, with the collaboration of the country’s private channels. Many Brazilian citizens and artists were deported to Europe, including journalists, and many others were tortured and murdered. Thus, for average citizens discussing politics was taboo, either because they supported the military regime or for fear of what might happen to them. In this shameful period of Brazilian history, a popular saying was born: “religion, politics and football are not discussed”, and this has held for many years even after the end of the dictatorship.
Only after the end of the military regime, and also with the reformulation of the Brazilian Constitution (1988), consolidation of political parties, and free and democratic presidential elections (1989), that politic issues returned to be discussed on daily life of brazilian citizens, although these were still monopolized by the political establishments in different levels.
The emergence of social networks has brought about some gradual changes, encouraging Brazilian citizens to question government control of information and the work of Brazilian television, with the quest for information via alternative online sources slowly but surely gaining ground. Access to news on social, political, and economic affairs has now become possible without the need to access traditional media. Thanks to digital media, a more decentralized distribution of information is now possible, as Castells observes:
With the development of the networked society and the expansion of new ICT networks, there has been an explosion of horizontal communication networks, totally independent from the traditional media and government, giving rise to what I have called “mass self-communication”. It is mass communication because it has a potentially global reach thanks to the Internet. It is self-communication because it is usually initiated by individuals or groups on their own accord, without the mediation of the media system. (Castells, 2005, p. 24)
In Brazil, in addition to digital media, FB has performed this function because it creates an interwoven textual in which news, in addition to being shared, can foster political debate, however superficial this may be. On Brazilian FB, a space has been created for a “journalism”, independent from the major media companies whose editors establish what is newsworthy in terms of their business and/or political commitments (i.e. with little or nothing to do with information democracy), in which users immersed in a discursive formation, whether they are aware of this or not, decide on what should be posted and read.
This does not mean to say that FB – as with other social networks – is totally free from corporate and political interference, but due to its size and reach users can decided on what to post and share and on who is allowed to comment on the information (without forgetting that we are all immersed in a discursive formation that impels us to make a choice). One of FB’s advantages is that it allows users to access information from a huge variety of local, national, and international sources, hence its key value lies in that freedom of choice.
Key actors in this new media universe include Mídia Ninja and Jornalistas Livres. The huge popularity of the FB profiles of these two groups of journalists is due to the real-time coverage that they offer of social mobilizations such as marches and protests, which the major television networks include in their programming only very superficially, if at all. Furthermore, Mino Carta (director of the online magazine Carta Capital), Paulo Henrique Amorim (Conversa Afiada), and Luiz Nassif (GGN), all renowned journalists highly respected for the quality of their work, have FB profiles that they refer to on their blogs. These and many other groups and individuals have encouraged Brazilians to broach social and political issues on FB and to engage in social marches and protests, including the “It does not represent me” movement arising from this social network.
Social protests in Brazil: from Facebook to the streets
Between March and April 2013, numerous posts under the title of “Feliciano does not represent me”, and then, “It does not represent me”, later marked by the symbol # (hashtag), began to appear on Brazilian social networks as a result of the negative reaction of a part of Brazilian society and number of congressman to the appointment of the federal deputy Marco Antônio Feliciano as chairman of the Commission on Human Rights and Minorities (CDHM) in the Brazilian National Congress.
Although the political controversy received some press coverage, it became a burning issue on the country’s social networks, with daily posts on the subject. The reason behind the protests on FB, which would then reach the streets, was a number of derogatory remarks made by Feliciano, an evangelical pastor from the Christian Social party, on FB and Twitter. He declared, among other things, that “Africans are a people cursed by Noah” (2011). He also wrote on his Twitter account that “same-sex relationships would only bring hatred”, in an allusion to his stance against gay marriage. Reacting to these and other racist and homophobic comments, the LGBT (now LGBTQI) movement, the Black Unified Movement (MNU) and other political human rights activists declared the deputy persona non grata.
Given the panorama, the first attempt to elect Feliciano to chair the CDHM was postponed until some days later, with the security forces of the Federal Chamber having to contain the demonstrators. Once elected, the new chairman attempted to calm the waters by claiming that everything had been a terrible misunderstanding and that his remarks had been taken out of context. And thus the “It does not represent me” grassroots movement was born.
The blogs of politicians and more conservative opinion leaders tried to argue that Feliciano had been elected democratically and that the country’s citizens should abide by the majority decision whether they liked it or not. According to this logic, the new chairman enjoyed the support of the majority and there was nothing more to be discussed. However, the controversy focused on Brazil’s minorities encompassing indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants, women, and homosexuals, an issue that does not only involve the population as a whole, but also the basic needs and rights of those who are not served by the state and lack political representation.
According to the “It does not represent me” movement, there was a glaring contradiction between the remit of the chair of the commission (defending the rights of minorities) and Feliciano’s personal opinions about LGBTs and black people. So, what was being questioned was not the democratic legitimacy of his mandate, but the ethical basis of his election.
As already noted above, Feliciano’s questionable election sparked rallies and protests, such as those that took place during São Paulo’s Gay Parade in 2013. The new chairman of the CDHM was interviewed by Brazil’s mainstream media and on television, but it was on the social media where the debate really took place. The Mídia Ninja offered live coverage of the protests, including the Gay Parade, by posting videos on its FB profile. The discussions and sharing process that took place afterwards, although not always respectful, did at least focus on the representative role and work of Brazilian politicians. A photo of the Gay Pride Parade’s use of the “It does not represent me” movement’s slogan is shown below.
In the next section, we will deal with the effects of meaning of the FB posts analysed in this work.
The effects of meaning generated by Facebook posts
What follows derives from the observation of information sharing on FB during the Feliciano affair. The image shown in Figure 2 can be regarded as the first that led to the coining of the movement’s popular slogan “It does not represent me.”
This image first appeared on the social network Tumblr under the title of Hipster da Depressão. During the debate on how Feliciano’s religious views might interfere with his work in the CDHM, there were other posts that, transcending his image as a federal deputy, focused on those people who publically raised their voices, sometimes symbolically resorting to animals and inanimate objects to get their message across, to condemn his appointment and to deny that he represented them. What all of them had in common was their format, the predominant recourse to irony, and the phrase “Marcos Feliciano does not represent me” or “Feliciano does not represent me.”
The interwoven textual fabric created by citing the phrase and repeating the same structure (physical, subjective, religious/professional description, and sexuality) had a viral effect on FB, fuelling the online protest. The sharing of these kinds of photos and the comments of people for and against the movement (who even exchanged insults) made this social network an ideal place to discuss both the election of Feliciano and issues relating to political representation and minorities.
The protest on FB was also supported by Brazilian artists, some of whom openly admitted that they were gay, and because of its impact it even received some timid television coverage. Another important aspect is that people who were not gay (or at least did not openly admit to being so), black or with African or indigenous blood also began to react by posting photos of placards whose texts had an identical structure (i.e. religious leanings, gender, and the movement’s slogan), as can be seen in Figure 6:
These protest posts introduced an allusive intertextuality, namely, an explicit dialogue between the comments made by Feliciano and those written on the “placards” appearing in the photos either by citing his name or by repeating the phrase “He does not represent me”. Even though the wording of the texts was different, the sentence structure remained the same. Furthermore, a dialogue was even established with the CDHM itself, since the posts gave real visibility and voice to so many citizens belonging to LGBT community or ethnic minorities, thus highlighting the very people that it was meant to represent. In other words, the placards posted on FB triggered the dialogue that should have taken place between the commission and its stakeholders vis-à-vis Feliciano’s appointment, while underscoring its true role, i.e. the representation and furtherance of minority rights and fostering respect for all humans regardless of their racial, ethnic, class, religious, linguistic, gender or sexual condition.
The post of Hipster da Depressão (Figure 2) functions by subverting Feliciano’s verbal remarks in a subtly ironic way. The pink and lilac filter of the image is a reference to the LGBT flag, while maintaining an iconic association with the federal deputy. The photo depicts him in front of a microphone with his mouth open (as if speaking) and the words superimposed on his image seem to have been spoken by him (as if they were contained in a speech bubble), which causes a dual effect of meaning. On the one hand, the deputy does not represent me, i.e. a citizen belonging to a minority group whose interests should be protected by the CDHM. On the other, the “coloured” character in the photo is saying that he does not even represent himself: “This man, Feliciano, does not represent me” (in Brazilian Portuguese this is possible because the demonstrative pronoun “this” also encapsulates the meaning of self-reference).
This interpretation is only possible, however, if the reader is aware of the intertextual (repetition of words and syntactic structures) and interdiscursive (the meanings that oppose / represent / and / do not represent / and the tension between / doing and / have to do) processes. In plain English, this FB debate is only understood by those who are familiar with (1) the controversy surrounding Feliciano, (2) have accessed information on the subject in question, and (3) observe the repetition of words and the semantic opposition in the discourses.
In interdiscursivity, the play on language constituting meanings can be re-textualized, to wit, updated in other visual texts by repeating meanings or creating controversy between them, as with the use of irony. This is evident not only in the images portraying a cat and doll shown above (Figures 4 and 5), but also in the posts in which the main figure is an object.
In the case of the chocolate cake covered with hundreds and thousands, it could be said that a semi-symbolism is established in the logical relation a: b :: c: d (a stands for b and c stands for d), that is, the colour of chocolate represents black ethnicity, and the hundreds and thousands the rainbow flag of the LGBTQI movement, associations that are clearly explained in the placard appearing in the photo. In this case, the notion of semi-symbolism is preferred because, while symbolism implies that the representation can take place at any time, in any place, and to anyone, in semi-symbolism this occurs in a specific time and place and involves particular subjects, all three being prerequisites (Marsciani, 2012). Outside the context of intertextuality and interdiscursivity, a chocolate cake covered with hundreds and thousands, but without the placard, is just that.
The irony of these posts established an indirect dialogue with Feliciano, the CDHM, and the country’s conservatives, as well as with the articles and posts that defended him in the traditional media and on social networks.
The effect of participation and belonging
The ploy of using handwritten placards gives the posts an impersonal character by focusing more on repeating the protest’s slogan than on the person responsible for the post. This is also a characteristic of protest marches and demonstrations in which the number of participants and the placards attract more attention than those carrying them.
As already noted, ICTs have enabled people to interact regardless of their physical location or temporality. In cyberspace, the effect of sharing a post about a certain subject, having access to the same information source (a blog, a journalist, a newspaper, etc.), and interacting with other users is that of belonging to a group and coexisting in a common space.
In this case, belonging to FB is defined by information exchange and discursive repetition as regards a notion that allows us to distinguish between other textual and discursive exchanges. The repetition of posts against Feliciano makes it possible to observe the “spaces of meaning” that constitute a discursive formation versus another. In other words, if a barrage of posts on FB generates a discursive space in opposition to another logic, this implies that there must be another logic in place which should be opposed.
Thanks to the debate on FB, it was possible to shed some light on the habit that political representatives have of failing to fulfil their obligation to represent the people and to cast doubt on the very concept of representation itself. Although the debate initially focused on minority representation and rights, it ultimately spread to a broader community. It should be borne in mind, however, that as regards social networks debates and protest actions are often confined to posting comments and sharing others. If on the one hand, social networks foster a sense of belonging regardless of the geographical location and chronological time, on the other, they also play an essential role in informing citizens and allowing them to discuss issues by means that were unavailable to them before.
In the traditional media, there is no actual interaction in which users can directly voice their opinions. The sense of belonging fostered by FB – and perhaps this is the reason behind its success – depends on being connected and immersed in the intertextuality and interdiscursivity produced by hundreds of shares. As with belonging to a physical community, the sense of belonging to some or other discourse involves using language and is constituted by language (oral, written, photographic), that is, it is linked directly to the act of writing, sharing and commenting on posts.
According to Castells (2005), the Internet conveys information in a self-contained and horizontal way, namely, users do not depend on communication companies to organize and distribute it, as has been observed in this study. This may be directly related to the findings of Valera (2016) and Negredo et al. (2016) as regards the lack of credibility of traditional means of information delivery, since both authors have indicated the causes behind the migration from more traditional media to the Internet as an information source.
Although cultural differences need to be considered, it can be understood that the global crisis in this respect affects the quality and credibility of information services in general. In Brazil, with its tradition of silencing conflicting opinions inherited from the military dictatorship – in addition to the aforementioned issues – the advent of public service broadcasting of a solely “educational” character and, in more recent history, the control of information by major companies, have led citizens to resort to digital media in their search for information. Furthermore, many citizens use social networks to access online newspapers and the blogs of journalists who are believed to be more scrupulous when informing and, therefore, enjoy greater credibility.
FB played an important role in stimulating discussion on the object of study, as a space for freely expressing ideas and opinions. It also served as a platform for organizing demonstrations and social protests, and for groups of independent journalists, such as Media Ninja, which are still monitoring socially important events through their profiles. An active and critical attitude towards news is becoming an important feature of this social network.
FB is a relevant site for observing the intertextuality and interdiscursivity generated through posts and discourse formation processes in society as a whole, to the extent that it allows us to relate these processes to the sense of belonging to an interpretative community constituted and sustained by FB or by taking part in a political movement. Just as the dissemination of news has been “democratized”, so too should those who integrate this social network and share information on it be made accountable. If irony and humour as a reverse discourse have no place in the traditional media (newspapers, magazines, television), they indeed abound on FB. Ironic reverse discourse encourages people to question the veracity of information and to look for additional sources in order to discover what made such a reversal possible. And this is relevant in a country like Brazil in which traditional means of information are currently being questioned and their shortcomings with regard to plurality and representativeness are being addressed by social networks.
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Negredo S., Vara-Miguel, A. & Amoedo, A. (2016). Digital Newsd Report ES. Retrieved from: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B2eyawMqcpTyLVpGR0NLQzAtcmc/view
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The Commission on Human Rights and Minorities (CDHM) is one of the 21 standing committees of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, where it acts as a technical body formed by 18 members and an equal number of deputies. According to the information available on the institution’s website, the committee’s constitutional and regulatory powers include receiving, evaluating and investigating complaints on human rights violations, conducting research into the situation of human rights in Brazil and the rest of the world and into issues relating to ethnic and social minorities, specifically the preservation and protection of the country’s popular and ethnic cultures. Further information at: http://www2.camara.leg.br/atividade-legislativa/comissoes/comissoes-permanentes/cdhm/conheca-a-comissao/oquee.html.
The term “discursive formation” (DF) was coined by Foucault in L’Archeologie du Savoir (1969) to define statements that have the same system of historically determined semantic and structural rules constituting a set. The author takes up the concept again in his paper Qu’est-ce qu’un auteur? (1969). Pêcheux and the researchers Haroche and Henry, affiliated to French Discourse Analysis, define DF as part of an ideological formation that imposes rules as regards what can and should be said in its semantic variations. Furthermore, Pêcheux observes, as Foucault himself argued, that an DF is not a closed structure and therefore there is always a semantic intersection between the various DFs of a society, constituted by ideologically marked subjects. From these points of view, discourses are invariably linked to an ideology that may constitute more than one DF, but which refer to the same meanings conveyed (Charaudeau, P. & Maingueneau, D. Dictionnaire D’Analyse du Discours, 2004, entry Formation Discoursive).
As already noted, since it is impossible to retrieve the source of the post, the ones analysed in this paper can be accessed on Facebook by entering #nãomerepresenta, and selecting 2013. When they also appeared on websites, this has been indicated in the footnotes.
In 2015, the Secretariat for Social Communication (SECOM) of the Presidency of Brazil drafted the document Pesquisa Brasileira de Mídia (PBM) 2015: Hábitos de consumo de mídia pela população brasileira, which analyses the growth in access to FB and the trust that users place in online and TV news. It should be noted that, along with the growth in Internet access, many users also obtain information from television, but the level of mistrust, depending on their educational background and wage income, is almost the same for both the traditional media and the Internet. Remarkably, 83% of Brazilians with Internet access have an FB profile and use it to interact and keep informed. The PBM 2015 is available at: . Accessed 25 August 2017.
For further information on the Brazilian military dictatorship, also known as the Years of Lead, see Maria Ribeiro do Valle (org.), 1964-2014: Golpe Militar, História, Memória e Direitos Humanos (Cultura Acadêmica, 2014). It is a collection of papers by researchers and scholars that, in addition to providing an overview of the history of Brazil, pose important questions about the conduct of teachers and opinion leaders who participate in television programmes. Special mention should go to the paper by Caio Navarro de Toledo who claims that the political right is still a force to be reckoned with in Brazil, controlling among things the country’s public service broadcasters.
Even though Feliciano’s posts were finally deleted from his Facebook profile and Twitter account, they were discussed on news sites and electronic magazines. Further information at: https://www.terra.com.br/noticias/brasil/politica/acusado-de-homofobia-e-racismo-feliciano-semeiapolemicas-no-congresso,2f8de89a54bdd310VgnCLD2000000ec6eb0aRCRD.html, and: .
The placard reads: Human Rights / Not a homophobic and racist country / Get out Feliciano! You do not represent us!
Figure 3: I am married, transsexual teacher and the deaconess of ICM, and Marco Feliciano does not represent me. Figure 4: I am black and white and Feliciano #does not represent me. Figure 5: I am a knight of Athena, owner of the aquarium house, and Marco Feliciano does not represent me. Further examples on Brazilian Google at: #nãomerepresenta, #felicianonãomepresenta, or #forafeliciano