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Social Media Plays Crucial Role in Brazil's ‘Vinegar Revolt’ Protests

A faixa "Somos a Rede Social" na manifestação no Rio de Janeiro no dia 17 de junho. Foto de Arthur Bezerra usada com permissão/Facebook

A banner reads “We Are The Social Network” at a protest in Rio de Janeiro on June 17. Photo by Arthur Bezerra used with author's permission/Facebook.

[All links lead to Portuguese-language webpages unless stated otherwise.]

The protests [en] that started on June 13 with a public call to lower bus fares in São Paulo have reverberated far and wide on the Internet. During the protests, and as national support has grown, a number of new websites, tools, and blogs have emerged to help publicize complaints and mobilize the online world to act offline.

And it has been through social networks that most of the protests have taken place. The information exchanged ranges from specifics on protest times and places to practical advice on how to keep safe while walking through the streets, where to seek help or shelter and from whom, and how to report incidents. Advice concerning activism is also exhaustive, including, for example, how to report acts of violence throughout Brazil through videos and photos.

For example, the Ushahidi platform, a collaborative map was set up by the blog #protestosbr (Brazil protests), collects complaints of violence and conflicts during what has been dubbed the Vinegar Revolt [en].

print screen do mapa colaborativo #protestobr

Screen capture of the #protestobr collaborative map.

The collaborative site No Movimento (In The Movement), which emerged during the protests, publishes images from protests all over Brazil and also includes a list of volunteer lawyers offering legal aid for protesters in need. The blog Brazilian Protests promises to publish “the truth” about the protests in Brazil in English for those who do not speak Portuguese. The site Vemprarua.org (take to the streets) seeks to gather information about protests throughout Brazil and has also contribute to Vemprarua.com's collaborative map.

One video that has been widely circulated on social networks teaches viewers “How to Film a Revolution”:

Online activism and offline passivity?

These protests born in a virtual universe ask people to get off the Internet and take to the streets, as exemplified with the hashtag #vemprarua (take to the streets).

Whether or not an online protest is possible is not under debate, but a number of protests throughout the world, such as Egyptian Revolution in 2011 [en], have already shown how social media has the potential to encourage widespread social movements to claim citizen rights.

Foto da manifestação de São Paulo no dia 13 de junho. Foto amplamente divulgada por blogs e contas de twitter coletada por @NoMovimento na cobertura colaborativa dos protestos em Sao Paulo

Residents of the city of São Paulo walked away from Facebook and headed to the protests on June 13. This photo, widely circulated on blogs and Twitter accounts, was collected by @NoMovimento during collaborative coverage of the protests in Sao Paulo.

The true novelty seems to be that Brazil, a country that has an extremely wide presence in a majority of online social media, is learning to better harness the potential of online networks to fuel national protests.

This has generated both surprise and contentment among users. On Facebook, historian Fred Coelho, from the blog Objeto Sim, Objeto Não (Object Yes, Object No), stressed how social media is playing an important informative role in the protests (reprinted with permission):

Hoje foi um dos dia mais bem informados da história do facebook – ao menos, da minha timeline. A quantidade de artigos, links e videos que coletei sobre os eventos de ontem, textos do mundo inteiro, sem ter que sequer sair da rede do zuckberg foi sensacional.

Today was one of the most informative days in the history of Facebook, at least on my timeline. The number of articles, links and videos that I collected on yesterday's events, texts from around the world, without even having to log off Zuckerberg's network, was sensational.

Leonardo Sakamoto's blog discusses the difficulty politicians are facing in understanding how online tools for mobilization function:

 Os políticos tradicionais têm dificuldade em assimilar como movimentos utilizam ferramentas como Twitter e Facebook. Acreditam que são apenas um espaço para marketing pessoal ou, no máximo, um canal para fluir informação ou atingir o eleitor. Há também os que creem que redes sociais funcionam como entidades em si e não como plataformas de construção política onde vozes dissonantes ganham escala, pois não são mediadas pelos veículos tradicionais de comunicação. Ou seja, onde você encontra o que não é visto em outros lugares, por exemplo.

Traditional politicians are having difficulty assimilating how movements use tools like Twitter and Facebook. They believe these tools are merely a space for personal marketing or, at best, a way to reach or get information to voters. There are also some who believe social networks work are entities unto themselves and not platforms for building politics where dissonant voices gain major ground since they are not filtered by traditional means of communication. In other words, where you find what is not found elsewhere, for example.

The post also addresses social medial as a form of social participation:

Essas tecnologias de comunicação não são ferramentas de descrição da realidade, mas sim de construção e reconstrução desta. Quando a pessoa está atuando através de uma dessas redes, não reporta simplesmente. Inventa, articula, muda. Vive. Isso está mudando aos poucos a forma de se fazer política e as formas de participação social. O poder concedido a representantes, tanto em partidos, como em sindicados, associações, entre outros espaços, tende a diminuir e a atuação direta das pessoas com os desígnios da sua polis, consequentemente, aumentar.

These communication technologies are not tools describing reality, but rather the building and rebuilding of reality. When a person is acting through these networks, s/he is not simply reporting. S/he is inventing, articulating, changing. Living. This is slowly changing both how politics is done and the forms of social participation. The power granted to representatives, in terms of parties, unions, associations and the like, is decreasing, and direct action by the people, as the architects of their own political reality, is consequently increasing.

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