In Brazil, QAnon Has a Distinctly Bolsonaro Flavor

Published in Foreign Policy

By Robert Muggah

When Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro repeatedly downplayed the threat of COVID-19, Brazilians were understandably confused about the gravity of the pandemic. This helps explain why the country of more than 210 million people currently registers one of the world’s highest daily death tolls from the coronavirus. But in addition to the pandemic-spreading signals sent by their right-wing leader, there is another key factor behind Brazilians’ resistance to mask-wearing, social distancing, and other basic preventive measures: online conspiracy theories. Brazilians, who are among the most avid users of social media on the planet, are gorging on a steady diet of misinformation and disinformation.

The sheer volume of online conspiracies circulating in Brazil is hard to overstate. Sometimes, they become visible in the real world. One such example occurred during a pro-Bolsonaro protest in the capital, Brasília, last May. Amid the flag-waving car procession, one vehicle had the letter “Q” prominently displayed on the rear window. At the time, most Brazilians had no inkling of what the letter meant. Times have changed, and references to the QAnon conspiracy theory are today splashed across social networks, chatrooms, and messaging apps. There’s even a new self-published e-book, O Movimento Q (“The Q Movement”), seeking to bring the conspiracy to the masses.

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