Social media and the Internet in Brazil

Brazilians are passionate about the Internet, and all the social media applications the Internet has made possible. Internet use and social media are pervading a wide range of aspects of life in Brazil, such that even those who do not have Internet access or choose not to participate in social media are frequently aware that the Internet and all its related applications are being inextricably integrated into Brazil’s social fabric. The Wikipedia even lists a technical term for Brazilian appropriation of foreign Internet applications – the Brazilian Internet Phenomenon. And they are matching Americans with regard to time spent online. Telegeography, a telecom consulting firm, reported in 2004 that Brazilian Internet users had overtaken American Internet users in terms of hours online. I actually find their statistic of 12 million Internet users in 2004 inaccurate. Euromonitor International lists 22 million users in 2004 (Euromonitor International, 2006), and Internet World Stats and Caio Bonhila of the International Telecommunications Union list 39,140,000 and 40,800,000 respectively in late 2006/early 2007.

Likewise, many in Brazil are making extensive use of different Web 2.0/social media/social networking applications. My favorite bit of pop culture to come from the Brazilian Internet recently is this music video by Claudia Leitte:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBkMFVAuLPk]

It highlights the extent to which both YouTube and Second Life are becoming a part of daily existence for Brazilian Internet users. The success of YouTube has even prompted Universo Online, A Brazilian version of America Online, to produce a native Brazilian video sharing service, the Videolog. And earlier this year Linden Labs, the company that maintains Second Life launched the Mainland Brasil arm of Second Life, its first non-English language platform (Brasil is the Portuguese spelling of Brazil). Drawing from many Brazilian blogs, Jose Murilo Junior provides this excellent account of the opening of Mainland Brasil. He quotes Brazilian bloggers’ thoughts on the opening itself, on the marketing campaigns that accompanied the opening, on the presence of the Catholic Church in Mainland Brasil, and on the (inevitable) backlash that came with the hype surrounding the event. Two bloggers in particular are worth noting. Drawing from the March 2007 Second Life population data, a blogger named Aenea pointed out that Brazilians are the sixth largest group of active Second Life users, claiming 4.73% of active users around the world. She provides the following comparison of these numbers to other Sough American countries. And writing at the Mundo Linden (Linden World) blog, Debora Perenti writes that

The Catholic community and communications network “Canção Nova” will launch the second biggest Brazilian enterprise in Second Life. It is the first Christian world large scale initiative in Linden Lab's virtual universe. The “Canção Nova Island” forms an archipelago of 25 islands which will turn into the biggest Brazilian (and Global) Christian center, and offers a communal space for relationships, events and business in Second Life, is already in an advanced stage of development and building. The project was already being discreetly executed about 3 months ago. A team of 15 people take care of the diverse aspects in the island, such as terraforming, infrastructure, code programming, multimedia development, along side of the space's commercial and managerial demands. (Translation by Jose Murilo Junior)

The presence of the Catholic Church in Mainland Brasil is a huge example of the confluence between Web 2.0 applications and a longstanding institution that forms part of the social and cultural fabrics of the Brazilian people.

In addition to the Brazilian presence in Second Life, hundreds of thousands of Brazilians use the Orkut social network. Developed by Google, Orkut is an example of the Brazilian Internet phenomenon listed above – an American network, but more Brazilians than Americans using it. Jose Murilo Junior writes about Orkut as well – as he says,

In order to understand Google's significance in South America's biggest country it must be realized that today of the 20 million Brazilians with access to the Internet , approximately 17 million are in Orkut.

And immediately after he makes this statement he pulls together literature from around the Brazilian blogosphere outlining a tension between Brazilian authorities seeking Orkut patron information on people suspected of being involved in foul play and Google’s unwillingness to turn over information it believed should remain confidential. In addition to discussions of censorship and comparisons of Brazil’s government to the governments of China and Iran (both of whom have asked Google for information on Internet users), some of the discussion focused on an extremely frightening prospect for many Brazilians – that Google might elect to close Orkut to Brazilian social networkers rather than turn over data to the Brazilian government. Luckily for Brazilian Orkut users this course of action never became reality, and Orkut is still freely accessible in Brazil. This amalgamation of blogosphere chatter culminates in Murillo Junior’s thought that

All sides should keep in mind that the case can be an opportunity bringing important insights about how to deal with identity in the web environment. Brazilians are ready (eager?) to explore these possibilities. It would be important also that Google Brazil's team should be prepared to think and move with respect for local cultural sensibilities while dealing with the implications created by such a huge experiment in social networking. It is obvious that ‘adsense' sales people are not prepared to understand the deep issues that will keep emerging from the incredible digital laboratory spontaneously generated by social networking. Google's one-size-fits-all approach may just not fit everywhere, every time.

I’d be interested to know any or your thoughts on the extent to which a social network or other Web 2.0 application can be imported from one “local cultural sensibility” into another one, contrasted to the extent of localization that must occur to make a social networking service palatable to a culture different from the one that produced it.

Citizen journalism blog reactions to violence in Brazilian cities

As is evident from Murillo Junior’s sources, the Brazilian blogosphere in general is vast and covers many different topics, from people’s daily lives, to blogs discussing specific topics. (In fact in terms of breadth and topics, the Brazilian blogosphere isn’t too different from the blogosphere in America, although the content posted to Brazilian blogs will have its own distinct cultural characteristics). Though they are by far not the only blogs to discuss these topics, I have run across two blogs in particular that highlight issues within Brazilian politics and rising violence in Rio de Janeiro. Written in both Portuguese and English, the political blog, Brazil Political Comment, is managed by a consultant in São Paulo named John Fitzpatrick, and (in its own words) offers “opinion and analysis of the Brazilian political and business scene.”

A starker example of a social justice blog, Rio Body Count chronicles the numbers of dead and wounded in Rio between February and September of 2007. For the past year to year and a half, Brazil’s major cities – Rio and São Paulo in particular, but other cities as well – have been hit by a severe spike in violence and gang-related activity. There are multiple causes of this spike, but in particular ethnic tensions and a wide gap between wealthy and poorer people (combined with a perception that this gap is widening even further) have fueled this rise of violence. An October 6, 2006 article by Ralph Hoppe in Der Spiegel called São Paulo: Laboratory of Violence provides easily the most graphic but detailed and informative picture of São Paulo’s heightened level of violence I have seen:

The criminal underworld in Sao Paolo wields a power that rivals the Brazilian government's. It organizes deadly violence but serves as a welfare state, while the city's wealthy have withdrawn into luxury neighborhoods and feel safe only when they travel by helicopter. Is Sao Paolo a forerunner of the 21st-century metropolis?

For Sao Paolo, 2006 is the year of violence. Never before have there been such intense and protracted battles between gangsters and the police, concentrated attacks that paralyzed the giant city for days… All this violence amounted to a challenge to the Brazilian government by the criminal underground. According to people in the favelas, it was high time. Sao Paolo proper has 10 million inhabitants; it's the sixth-largest city in the world, the largest in the southern hemisphere. In this chaos of wealth and sordid misery, gleaming skyscrapers and gray huts, the criminal underground has issued its call to arms, and the upper classes have retreated deeper and deeper into enclaves of wealth…

Since this year's civil war, though, the ["Primeiro Comando da Capital" or "First Command" – the main criminal gang operating in São Paulo] builds internal coherence through fear and trust… and the message of the violent "demonstration" was simple: This city is ours.

Rio witnessed a similar spike in violent crime in 2006 and 2007. Groups like Rio Body Count have used different means, including their blog, to convey a message of opposition to violence of this nature. Accessing the site on September 19 of this year and using Google translator, one passage on the site reads

At the beginning of the project, the shock was gigantic... [An average of ten] died per day, and the people had started to debate on the violence, on the real necessity to decide everything with more violence. Many blogs had appeared to debate the subject, others had deepened the speech, similar projects to the Riobodycount had been initiated in other States of Brazil, and the numbers had been growing each time more…

This violence, peaceful protests against it, and police actions to counter it also entered the mainstream media and made it onto citizen journalism blogs. Roger Cohen wrote about the current violence in Brail and its causes in the New York Times, and on the French citizen journalism site AgoraVox, J.N. Paquet had this report on the Rio de Paz (“River of Peace”) movement placing 3,000 black bags filled with sand on Copacabana beach in Rio to represent the 3,000 people killed in their state during the first half of 2007. He includes the following picture of the Rio de Paz cemetery:

Image of the Rio de Paz cemetery on Copacabana beach

Alan Mota at OhMyNews, a Korean citizen journalism site, wrote about a police reaction to the rise in violence, which involved coordinated efforts by 25,000+ police officers across Brazil and yielded over 2,000 arrests.

Other Brazilian uses of social media

Like any outlet for citizen journalism, Brazilian sites cover many topics – the blog reactions to violence discussed above being just one (rather grim) example. Also writing in OhMyNews, Antonio Carlos Rix covered the Eu-Reporter (“I Reporter”) site, which he describes as “a collaborative section at the famous Brazilian print newspaper and online newspaper O Globo.” Rix also points to two articles by OhMyNews reporter Ana Maria Brambilla, one about citizen photojournalism in Brazil, the other about professional relationships between citizen journalists.

Concerning corporate blogs in Brazil, Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research shares his experiences from a conference in São Paulo:

CEOs here want to blog. I met with CEOs of companies large and small, and this question kept coming up. “How much time does it take?” “What if someone criticizes us?”… I was intrigued that this idea was so popular. I think businesspeople in Brazil are more used to taking risks.

And beyond citizen journalism and the blogosphere, Richard MacManus writes about a host of Brazilian Web 2.0 applications that have emerged within the past two years. He covers, among others, Videolog.tv, theYouTube clone I mentioned above, the Gazzag and Wasabi social networks, the BlogBlogs and OverMundo blogging services, and the Flogão photo sharing service.

So in short, Brazilian social media applications and social media users are extensive and growing, and they use these media platforms to discuss a wide range of topics. As Internet connectivity and Internet use continue to expand in Brazil, the numbers of Brazilians using these applications to put their voices on the Web will do nothing but increase – and, I predict, increase rapidly.

Work Cited:
Euromonitor International. (2006). International Marketing Data and Statistics 2007. 2nd ed, v. 2. London, U.K: Euromonitor International Plc.

Posted by Aaron Bowen

Category: