The Social Communication Secretariat (Secom) of the Presidency of the Republic has used the federal government’s social networks to launch indirect and ironic comments towards political opponents. The new style of posts corresponds to what social media users tend to call “sealing”: posts made more to impress, gain approval on social networks, give moral lessons and subjugate the adversary than to encourage communication, generally with a touch of mockery or sarcasm.
Several of these publications have been made on days of Federal Police (PF) operations against opponents. At the end of January, after a PF operation against councilor Carlos Bolsonaro, the federal government’s online profile published content about the fight against dengue with the expression “knock, knock, knock”, in reference to police raids in investigations.
In another post on the same day, Secom used the phrase “Big day”, used as jargon by Bolsonaro, to talk about the payment of the new minimum wage.
On Thursday (8), the day the former president’s advisors were arrested by the Federal Police (PF) as part of the January 8 investigation, Secom did not make posts of this type. According to information published on Friday (9) by Noblat’s Blogfrom the website Metropolisesagency employees received express guidance to avoid comments mocking the event.
For Rafael Domingues, PhD in State Law from USP, mocking opponents goes against the principles of public administration present in article 37 of the Constitution. “The government has to be more restrained than a citizen. Public administration has to obey legality, impersonality, morality, publicity and efficiency”, he says.
Of these principles, the one most affected by Secom’s new posting style is impersonality, which provides for equal treatment of all citizens. With partisanship blatant, the posts have sparked outrage from right-wing social media users.
The government’s stance is not new; in 2023, the secretariat had already made some publications that poked opponents in an ironic way, as in the case of Saudi Arabian jewelry. In March, in a post about the income tax declaration, a lion representing the Federal Revenue appeared saying, in an illustration with a speech bubble: “What’s up, everything is beautiful?”.
In May, when Bolsonaro became the focus of an investigation conducted by the Federal Police on charges of falsifying his vaccination documents, Secom used the occasion to highlight the need to observe health protocols before traveling internationally.
“Stay tuned! Many countries still require a vaccination protocol for Brazilians to visit. Therefore, find out before traveling. Furthermore, it is essential for public health that everyone is vaccinated,” he posted.
Also in May, when the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) revoked the candidacy registration of former deputy Deltan Dallagnol (who was Podemos-PR and later migrated to Novo-PR), Secom made an art about the government with reference to famous PowerPoint presentation that pointed to Lula as the central figure of Lava Jato.
Based on the article of the Constitution that provides for the principle of impersonality, deputy Nikolas Ferreira (PL-MG) filed, in March last year, a representation with the Federal Public Ministry (MPF) against Secom for improper use of communication. For Domingues, even though the posts really do not comply with this principle, the subtlety of the content makes any type of repercussion from a judicial point of view difficult.
The Constitution also says that publicity for government acts “must have an educational, informative or socially oriented character, and cannot contain names, symbols or images that characterize personal promotion of authorities or public servants”. Although ironies against opponents do not directly serve educational, informative or guidance purposes, Domingues does not consider this to be enough to sanction them.
“It is so subtle that it would be difficult to prove that they violate the legal provisions. The public interest would demand better behavior, without a doubt, but I cannot see an explicit violation of the constitutional provisions”, he states.
This difficulty in judicializing the case does not mean, however, that using official accounts to rival opponents is a stance in accordance with democratic principles. “Democracy presupposes a minimally rational and respectful debate. Any type of polarization does nothing,” he says.
Government invests heavily in modernizing communication
The new style is neither casual nor the result of a one-off action: it is part of Secom’s strategy of modernizing its language on the networks, as the chief minister of the Social Communication Secretariat, Paulo Pimenta, publicly revealed on Tuesday (6).
In an interview with the website Power 360, Pimenta said that the constitutional demand that campaigns have a guiding or informative character was met with the “knock, knock, knock” post. For him, the new style adopted by Secom corresponds to the dynamics of social networks, which requires addressing the topic of the moment to attract engagement.
“That week of ‘knock, knock, knock’, there were several opportunity posts. We made one about the Oscar, one about the end of the soap opera, another about a phrase that was said in the Big Brother. Anyone today who works on the network keeps following,” she said. “If everyone is talking about one topic, how do I talk about another topic on the network? We had decided: ‘let’s take preventive action to clarify dengue fever’. We have a problem today where many people, when the community agent arrives, are embarrassed. And then the idea of ’knock, knock, knock’ came up. Honestly, it was a great idea. And the repercussion itself showed that we had a reach on a topic that we wanted to give extraordinary relevance”, he added.
Pimenta warned in the same interview that Secom should continue making posts of this type, despite criticism from the right and even some leftists.
The controversies with Secom of the third Lula government have been going on since the beginning of 2023, when the body became controversial when creating the “Brazil against fake” initiative, its own checking agency that only posts checks favorable to the government.
In 2023, according to a survey carried out by the website Nexus, Secom increased spending on internet advertising by 40% compared to 2022, reaching R$45.5 million, highlighting a significant growth in investments in advertising on TikTok. The increase reflects a strategy to expand the Lula government’s presence in digital environments with a predominance of young people.