Social Networks

Satire and Electioneering: Brazil's Love Affair with Facebook

This is going to be no ordinary year for Brazil. The country is hosting in June and July the World Cup and a few months later, in October, a presidential election could change the direction of the country. And in the year that the world is going to be looking at Brazil, Brazilians seem to have their eyes turned to a specific place — Facebook.  New protests against the World Cup have been organised in different cities and as happened last year, social media sites have fuelled mass demonstrations, with Facebook pages like Operation World Cup playing a decisive role in the organisation of the protests.

Brazil holds today second place in number of Facebook users, second only to the US, and Portuguese is the second most spoken language on Twitter. “These numbers confirm the role that the Brazilians play in social media websites today,” says Carlos Affonso Pereira de Souza, director of the Rio Institute for Technology and Society and professor at the University of the State of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ). These figures show that Brazilians use social media as almost a synonym for the internet. If Brazilians spend so much time browsing social networks, more than the world’s average, it is obvious that these networks will become a vehicle that they will use to organise themselves.”

An economic perspective can also help to explain the boom in the number of users of Facebook and Twitter in Brazil.

“There was an [incremental rise] in the buying power of the classes C and D (middle class) in Brazil and this led almost immediately to an increase on the access to what I call goods for connection and communication, such as smartphones, tablets and so on,” says Elizabeth Saad Corrêa, professor at the School of Communications and Arts of the University of São Paulo (USP). “And as a result, there was this expansion of the social dialogue.”

She argues that Facebook has turned into a “symbol of participation” in Brazil. “And this phenomenon has coincided with a specific political moment, with the elections, the World Cup, et cetera.”

But the improvement in the economy may not be the only reason for the success of social media in Brazil. According to Pereira de Souza, the Brazilians love to communicate; they are inherently social people. And before Facebook there was Orkut, he recalls, a Google-owned social network that was embraced by Brazilians but not by the rest of the world.

The Political Use of Social Media   

Just as social media has been used by parts of the society to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the World Cup, the government now also plans to use this same tool to promote the importance of the event in the country. The Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff opened her Vine account at the end of January, adding to her Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. But on her Vine account the only subject present until now is how the World Cup will benefit Brazil. Three short videos highlight what the government considers will be the legacy of this year’s event.

In this context, it is no surprise that the political parties in Brazil will also use social media as an essential part of their campaigns for the presidential elections in October. Although the official start of the campaigns is the 6th of July, the fight for votes has already started on Facebook and Twitter. All the main parties keep their pages updated and from time to time accusations, subtle or not, against a rival candidate are posted. 

Nevertheless, the most interesting Facebook page in Brazil now seems to be the one created by a student as a parody of the President Dilma Rousseff: the profile Dilma Bolada. With more than a million followers, the page has some hilarious posts. An imaginary telephone call between Rousseff and Beyoncé, a video of the President supposedly trying to cancel a phone line rental and being put on hold, and many other bizarre situations. According to its creator, Jeferson Monteiro, Dilma Bolada is “the Queen of the Nation, the Diva of the People, the Sovereign of the America.”

“By creating this contrast between a very serious President with a character that is casual and fun, he achieves a fantastic comic effect,” says Pereira de Souza, from the Rio Institute for Technology and Society. “A profile like this is about having fun but is also an experiment in the political use of the web in Brazil.” 

And such is the relevance of Dilma Bolada’s page that some lawyers in Brazil argue that it should be take down during the presidential election this year because, somehow, it helps Rousseff’s campaign for re-election.

 

Nathalia Fernandes is a London-based Brazilian journalist. She has worked for BBC World Service, Globo TV and Reuters.

 

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