On WhatsApp, 63% of Brazilians flee political fights using memes | Behavior

Politics on WhatsApp has become a sensitive issue, especially after the 2018 elections. This is what a survey conducted by the Internet Lab, a research center in technology and digital law, points out. Due to the sensitivity of the subject, 63% of Brazilians use memes and humorous messages to debate politics without generating fights.


Memes are the most popular way to talk about politics without causing fights (Image: Jeso Carneiro/ Flickr)

The Internet Lab interviewed 3,113 Brazilians distributed across the 5 regions of the country, between December 17th and 20th. Answers were collected only from people over 16 years old, with internet access and who use WhatsApp — the messenger is used by 98% of the population. The margin of error for the study is 3 percentage points.

Despite being the preferred app for exchanging messages, Brazilians say they usually use two other messengers at the same time, such as Facebook Messenger (68%) and Instagram Messenger (65%) — especially to find other people without their mobile number .

Memes were the most shared in the 2020 Elections

Memes and other forms of humor have become increasingly common in political groups on WhatsApp, starting in 2018. Using jokes to talk about elections and candidates stirred up the debate in 2020 inside the platform, the year of municipal disputes.

Memes were more shared to address politics on WhatsApp (Image: Internet Lab)

Memes were shared more to address politics on WhatsApp (Image: Internet Lab/Disclosure)

According to the survey, 44% of voters received memes and jokes from candidates on WhatsApp during last year’s election — it was the type of content with the greatest engagement, being shared by 28% of Brazilians.

Joke messages reach all social classes and both the left and the right in a similar way. That’s why 6 out of 10 Brazilians say they use memes to talk about politics without fighting in groups.

Brazilians flee political groups on WhatsApp

Despite engaging in humor, Brazilians flee from dedicated groups to discuss politics. In 2020, 70% were left out of groups that discussed the campaign and support for municipal candidates. The largest participation by region were those of the North and Northeast, with 30% and 26%, respectively.


Research shows participation in WhatsApp groups to discuss elections in 2020 (Image: Internet Lab/Disclosure)

However, Heloísa Massaro, one of the study’s authors and the Internet Lab’s research coordinator, says that political campaign communication strategies are nullified by the diversity of groups on WhatsApp. “The variety of groups is very large: promotion groups, memes, etc. Each group will have a unique ethos: operating rules and moderation rules,” says Massaro.

72% no longer comment on politics in family groups

The 2018 presidential race, one of the most polarized in recent years, was a watershed in terms of WhatsApp user behavior in groups.

After the election that had Jair Bolsonaro (no party) as the winner, 72% of Brazilians say they avoid talking about politics in family groups so as not to generate fights. Now they police more wherever they speak. Nearly half of respondents say they have seen larger groups break up into smaller nuclei to make the policy discussion friendlier.

Right-wing users pass on more news without knowing the source

Massaro says that one of the most important points of the survey is that the behavior of voters from the right and left on WhatsApp to talk about politics is very similar.

“We identified that, through quantitative research, there is practically no difference in the behaviors, habits and perceptions of users on the right and left. They are very mirrored profiles”, says the researcher. She mentions that the two groups have a similar participation in groups to talk about politics from 2018 onwards.

Left Right center Do not know
Participate 25% 24% 15% 7%
Does not participate 75% 76% 85% 93%

Yet, the only difference between left and right Brazilians on WhatsApp is about news sharing without checking the source. Of the total 30% who admit to having passed on information without knowing the origin, 40% of respondents admit to being from the right, while 25% are from the left.

However, Heloísa Massaro emphasizes that this data must be read with caution, as the concept of “source” and “news” varies according to the political spectrum of the user on WhatsApp. “As of 2018, there is a widespread perception that checking the origin of information is important”, adds Massaro.

With information: Internet Lab

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