The online social movement that I´m going to address is the “Vem pra Rua Brasil” (Come to the streets, Brazil), that helped to bring 210,000 people to the streets of Sao Paulo in March 15, according to the Datafolha institute (not counting the thousands in other capitals), and I´m going to describe how I was fooled by it. While doing this, I´ll try to identify how the uses of social media involved the classic principles of political organizing (based on Ganz and Hilton reading) and where they may have transformed these principles into something new.
“Come to the streets” was the battle cry of the movement against corruption in June 2013, which claimed better conditions in the areas of transportation, health, education, among others. Society in general saw no major changes since 2013. In 2014 we had elections for president and Brazil revealed itself divided, but the result was the re-election of the President Dilma Rousseff. In the midst of all that, corruption scandals only increased (ie became public, which is not to say that corruption has increased). In early 2015, the gasoline increased, the Brazilian currency (Real) devalued and there were budget cuts in education. It was the last straw for a population avid for change.
In 2013, “The Giant woke up” (another battle cry, referring to the country), but then the Giant went back to take a nap in 2014. Now it is time to wake up for real. That was (and is) the general feeling of the population.
This is how the Vem Pra Rua movement called on people on twitter and facebook (starting from November 2014): “come to the streets to express your outrage with us. Our flag is democracy, ethics in politics and an efficient and less swollen State”. In their facebook page, they affirmed that they were a non-partisan movement, and were not pro impeachment, but they “could be pro impeachment if there were legal conditions to this (if the corruption of the president was legitimately proven)”.
Why should I distrust?
- Political parties are important for democracy. I´m not sure if it is emerging a new kind of democracy nowadays that could be self-organized and would not need parties anymore. But at this transition moment I should consider that currently there may not be conditions to that, and this particular movement just wasn´t taking a political “side”. Apparently, it was neutral in order to agglomerate the largest possible number of people, even with different views (which could be interesting itself)
- In a social movement, agenda is important. The definition of the claims of this movement were (are) very general, nothing is actually being proposed, much less being detailed. This makes room for happening what happened in 2013, when people started to protest against a mixed sort of themes, losing the focus and thus losing the force of the original movement (which was originally related to public transportation mismanagement).
- Vem Pra Rua Brasil movement didn´t even mention the most important issue of the moment for those concerned with democracy in Brazil: political reform.
Among my social cycles, I do not consider myself as a so uninformed person and even though, I supported the movement, sharing it within my social networks, believing that this movement would create a space of discussion in order to define strategies towards those barely defined goals.
What actually happened
This movement revealed itself as a politically right sided movement, essentially supported by middle and upper classes that are against the policy of wealth distribution, made by the current government, and I daresay that they just fear losing privileges. At the March 15 protests, people claimed for impeachment and military intervention, despite the bloody history of military dictatorship in Brazil (1964-1985). Mass media covered the whole day of protests with live broadcast. In Sao Paulo, state government even released the subway turnstiles for people to participate in the protests.
Also, people were just uninformed: a) people who supported or participated in the movement and did NOT want impeachment or military intervention, and b) people who participated to it, claiming for impeachment and military intervention. According to Schudson, three types of democracy (the democracy of solid citizen, the democracy of partisanship and the democracy of rights) “offer approaches to citizenship that are not in the first instance information centered models”, but then he highlights that any discussion of digital democracy has to find a place for “expertise and institutions”. This presupposes information.
Disguised as a pro-democracy movement, this movement tries to manipulate public opinion in order to put most Brazilians against the government, creating instability and an impression of weakness of the democratic institutions.
How the uses of social media involved the classic principles of political organizing:
- Build a public narrative: in this case, the narrative is being built by mass media and social networks. According to the Brazilian scholar André Lemos (UFBA), it is not the media itself that can be massive or post-massive. One can make a massive use of a post-massive media (like facebook and twitter) and one can also make a post-massive use of a media that is considered massive (it is the case of the radios, that can be local). So what exists are just functions that can be massive or post-massive. In the case of the analyzed movement, a massive use of a media that is considered post-massive was made in order to construct a narrative that took advantage of the context of a widespread discontent of the population.
- Establish relationships: in this case, the relationships were established in different ways: ‘one-to-one’, ‘one-to-many’, ‘many-to-one’ and ‘many-to-many’. It was also in person and remotely. The relationships were based on trust, but it was broken for some of the members (considering the different types of membership) when this event occurred. It was on March 15th when the movement revealed itself, with the State government support (which party is opposed to the federal government party), and had broad support from traditional media.
- A team approach: in this movement, I did not identify the establishment of discussion teams. I only noticed everybody expressing opinions and nobody listening to each other. I directly questioned the agenda of the movement via facebook, but had no official response. The lack of a team approach may be another disinformation strategy. Due to the fact that some people who participated in the protests were neither pro impeachment nor pro military intervention, the purposes of this movement were not even shared within participants.
- Form a strategy: there was a strategy, but not for democracy. On the contrary: a real strategy for democracy in Brazil should at least discuss political reform. A political reform proposal is to be voted on in the House of Representatives on May 15, without any participation of the population. No one is aware or disclosing this process that should be of number 1 interest of a movement that considers itself for democracy.
- Take action: on the second protest of this movement (on April 12nd), the number of participants was much lower. Politicians started to express opinions against the military intervention and the impeachment of the president. Thus, I’m not sure how this movement is going to reinvent itself.
Where the basic principles of political organizing were transformed into something new:
The shortest answer to this is that in this case, the principles were not transformed into something new, once manipulation of public opinion is not new. The movement was not even created by the population, as it seems. It is a sponsored link on facebook and the domain .net belongs to people linked to one of the richest Brazilian enterprises. The hardest answer would actually be about making questions regarding what´s really going on and then to take a position, either individually or collectively.