To read this content please select one of the options below:

Just asking questions: can a far-right president turn agentic knowledge construction into political manipulation?

Renato Russo (Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology, Teachers College of Columbia University, New York, New York, USA)
Paulo Blikstein (Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology, Teachers College of Columbia University, New York, New York, USA)

Information and Learning Sciences

ISSN: 2398-5348

Article publication date: 7 July 2023

Issue publication date: 9 August 2023

126

Abstract

Purpose

There are several connections between education and disinformation, including the association between years of schooling and vulnerability to unfounded hypothesizing. The purpose of this paper is to inquire into a competing explanation: political leaders might be exploring powerful teaching and learning strategies to disseminate agendas based on baseless assumptions, exploiting human’s tendency to generate robust theories even with incomplete or incorrect information.

Design/methodology/approach

The authors analyzed ten videos published online by a highly partisan YouTube channel. The footage contained informal encounters between former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and supporters in front of his official residence. The team sought to answer two research questions: Do Mr Bolsonaro’s discursive moves include activators that lead the audience to understand that they are theorizing and reaching conclusions “on their own?” Does Mr Bolsonaro’s audience follow those clues and mention politically motivated hoaxes and conspiracy theories in their comments? This paper draws on perspectives from the field of educational research to investigate the mechanisms used by the president to shape public opinion.

Findings

The authors found evidence of the employment of elements akin to classroom discourse in the dialogues led by Mr Bolsonaro. Specifically, different types of rhetorical questions are present to a substantial extent in the data subset analyzed for this paper.

Originality/value

This work offers an alternative perspective to analyzing disinformation. By drawing from established literature from education research, this paper departs from facile explanations that take for granted the lack of intelligence of the audience. Conversely, it argues that popular, if not powerful, teaching and learning strategies might play an undesired role by shaping individuals’ cognitive processes to create robust, internally consistent theories about the world using flawed assumptions and incorrect “building blocks.”

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This article builds on work originally presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, 2022. We thank the anonymous reviewers and session chair, Dr Tanner Vea, for their inestimable feedback on that presentation. We would like to thank Inara Sousa for her invaluable review of our data analysis and hours of discussion that led to a historicized and more robust interpretation of the dialogues and to Cleber Sant’Anna for his advice on the layout of dialogue charts. Thanks also to TLTLab Writing Group members Jacob Wolf, Leah Rosenbaum, Magnus Kaspersen, Marina Lemee, Tamar Fuhrmann and Yipu Zheng for their thorough review of early drafts of this manuscript and continuous support in everything we write. Finally, thanks to editor Dr Rebecca Reynolds and two anonymous reviewers, whose feedback was critical to the enrichment of this work.

Funding: This work was supported by funds made available by the Institute for Latin American Studies (ILAS) at Columbia University and the Lemann Center for Brazilian Studies at Columbia University through their Faculty-Student Collaboration Grant.

Citation

Russo, R. and Blikstein, P. (2023), "Just asking questions: can a far-right president turn agentic knowledge construction into political manipulation?", Information and Learning Sciences, Vol. 124 No. 7/8, pp. 197-220. https://doi.org/10.1108/ILS-10-2022-0118

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles