UCL Institute of the Americas


Cosimo Stahl

Claiming or framing for anti-corruption? Assessing the mobilising effects of Brazil's Public Federal Ministry communication campaign during the Lava Jato investigations (2014-21)


Dr Par Engstrom and Professor Christian Schuster (UCL Political Science)

Expected completion date: 2023/2024

My PhD assesses the effectiveness of framing and claims-making by institutional anti-corruption champions. For empirical case, it draws on Brazil's Public Federal Ministry's (MPF) communication campaign during the 2014-21 Lava Jato investigations. Based on the literature on (anti)corruption and communication theory, a model of effective communication is proposed, which is both actor/institution-centred and context-sensitive. The central argument is that to build public support effectively, the content of anti-corruption messaging will hinge on both the communicator (state, non-state) and the context of such communication. Put differently, this would mean two main things: first, what works for some communicators (for instance, political actors) may not work for others (state/governmental actors). Second, any communication should be tailored to local contexts and public(s). To probe for the so-called mobilising effects of digital communication (on Twitter and Facebook), a mixed-method social media analysis of online engagement and sentiment is conducted (using NLP and CAQDAS). This is to showcase that certain frame and claim types, especially when used 'in an official capacity' (by state actors), can over time bear very different effects (positive and adverse) among (virtual) publics. Illustrating this along Brazil's recent trajectory from initial 'accountability revolution' (2014-15), via political turmoil (2016-17) to authoritarian turn (from 2018) – pinpoints a fine line between the potential and danger of (such) contentious communication and governance efforts.