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Helped By the Force of the Web, the Giant is Waking Up

It has happened so fast that still there is no name to the protest movement that has caught Brazil and the rest of the world by surprise in the last two weeks. It might be Rebellions of June, as some Brazilian blogs suggest, or the Vinegar Uprising, since some protesters have been arrested for having vinegar with them in order to neutralize the effects of tear gas. But one thing seems to be certain by now; Brazilians have discovered the power of the internet and this should now change their relationship with the country’s mainstream media. 

As Kathryn Cave reported in a previous article, social media has fuelled the mass demonstrations in Brazil. In a short period of time, the main demands of the protesters have been achieved, as authorities reversed an increase in bus fares and as Congress rejected an amendment that would have limited the power of federal prosecutors to investigate crimes. Also in a matter of days, the filmmaker Carla Dauden became a kind of celebrity, or if you prefer, a muse of the movement, with her Youtube video No, I’m not going to the World Cup being seen by more than 3 million people.  

“The impact is overwhelming. In one week, Brazilian protesters turned the country up side down. The technological bubble of 2000 has prepared the Brazilian people for what we have seen. It has passed 13 years already, so the traditional media can no longer rest in its comfort zone. It has to adapt to this new era”, explains Pollyana Ferrari, a consultant in social media and professor at Brazil’s PUC University. According to a report published by the NGO Reporter Without Borders this January, the media topography of Brazil has barely changed in the three decades since the end of the military dictatorship. 

Some of the demonstrators that took to Brazilian streets were clearly angry at the mainstream media and even set fire to a van of a national TV station. “It was up to the mainstream media to interpret the facts, because the social networks cannot do it, they don’t have the credibility to do it, they just present the facts. But the interpretation of the mainstream media was desultory, changing almost daily. At first, everything was the work of troublemakers, the next moment they were legitimate demonstrators. This uncertainty was perceived by the population and generated hostility and violence toward newspapers and TV channels”, argues Luiz Fernando Santoro, a media professor at Brazil’s USP University. 

To Raoni Vidal, one of the directors of the documentary Public Domain, it is urgent to transform the relationship between the Brazilian society and the traditional media. And again the web seems to be the medium that will help to promote this transformation. Through the website Catarse, a Brazilian version of the crowdfunding website Kickstarter, the crew raised around US$ 50,000 to produce and edit a documentary to investigate the forced removal of people in the city of Rio de Janeiro to make way for the World Cup and the Olympic Games. “We used Catarse so we could continue with the project that we started in 2011. Because it is such a polemic subject, we believed that just few companies would want to support us. This is a fast and democratic way of turning your ideas into reality without having to rely on corporate sponsorships or public funding”, explains Vidal.  “And in the process we realized that another important aspect of the project was to show that this part of the Brazilian society, that is usually excluded, can also have a voice”, he defends. 

Ironically, while the mainstream media has been a target of rage and discontentment, two recent TV adverts gave the young people on the streets the slogan they needed to push the movement forward. “Vem pra rua, vem” (“Come to the street, come”) is in fact a phrase from a jingle of Fiat’s commercial made especially for the Confederations Cup, the dress rehearsal for the World Cup next year. Another phrase broadly used by the activists was “O Gigante Acordou” (“The Giant Woke Up”), the slogan of Johnnie Walker’s whisky campaign. The TV commercial shows Rio’s landscape morphing up into a giant that wakes up. One Youtube video, edited by a group of protesters, mixes music and images from the two campaigns to create a manifesto in its own right, asking of the viewer at the end: Keep Fighting Brazil.  

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