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Voice through silence algorithmic visibility, ordinary civic voices and bottom-up authoritarianism in the Brazilian crisis

Magalhães, João Carlos Vieira (2019) Voice through silence algorithmic visibility, ordinary civic voices and bottom-up authoritarianism in the Brazilian crisis. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004042


From 2013 to 2018, Brazil was encapsulated in a multisited crisis that unsettled its political order. Unlike other turmoil in the country’s history, this one was strongly influenced by ordinary Brazilians who found a space to express themselves politically on digital platforms. This thesis aims to understand how the datafied government of users’ visibility by Facebook (Brazil’s most popular platform) can be understood to have structured these everyday experiences and, in so doing, to have prompted these individuals to (re)constitute the ways they act and comprehend themselves as citizens. To investigate these processes of civic becoming, the thesis develops a conceptual framework that uses elements of social practices theory to bridge critical notions of citizenship, recognition, datafication, and visibility. It is proposed that one of Facebook’s primary power techniques is the attempt to direct how the algorithmic visibility regime that supports its business model is imagined by users so as to try to prefigure these users’ actions. A thematic analysis of interviews with 47 users suggests that the ambiguous knowability of the platform’s machine learning algorithms gives rise to three sociomaterial imaginaries of its algorithmic visibility regime. Combined with assumptions about Brazil’s troubled democracy, these imaginaries (and the imagined others that populate them) are found to generate a paradoxical understanding of how civic worth is granted on Facebook, according to which being heard often depends on silencing others and oneself – a phenomenon theorised as bottom-up authoritarianism.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2019 João Carlos Vieira Magalhães
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
T Technology > T Technology (General)
Sets: Departments > Media and Communications
Supervisor: Mansell, Robin and Powell, Alison

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