Social Representations of (Im)migrants in the First Year of the Covid-19 Pandemic in Brazil: A Study of Online News
Interested in dialogical and modelling approaches to social representations and communication dynamics, we investigated social representations of (im)migrants constructed in a period and context of intense social vulnerability, the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic in Brazil (February to December 2020). We explored media communication not simply as the unidirectional transmission of collective beliefs to the Brazilian public, but as social representations co-constructed by citizens and expressed in the comments that they posted on social media. We collected data online and constructed two textual corpora. The first corpus included 134 news articles selected with the search terms ‘immigrants’ or ‘refugees’ and ‘Covid-19’. The second corpus included 1295 comments written by the readers of the mentioned articles and posted on the newspapers’ Facebook pages, which we considered a special interactive space for expressing, sharing, and co-constructing social representations. We analyzed the data using the Descending Hierarchical Analysis and Similarity Analysis provided by the software IRaMuTeQ. The results show social dynamics of argumentative polarization about (im)migrants framed in the geo-political Brazilian context at the time of the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic. Our case study exemplifies how a context of crisis can reinforce the polarization of existing social representations of (im)migrants in Brazil. We discuss this polarization as an ‘echo chamber’ of informational polarization and fake news contributing to misinformation about Covid-19 worldwide, showing how political decisions may increase xenophobia or facilitate social dialogue.
Keywords: Social representations, covid-19; immigrants; Brazil; online newspapers; Facebook.