Demonstrations that started over a week ago with a public call to lower bus fares in São Paulo, the largest city in Brazil, have reverberated far and wide on the internet. During the protests, and as national support has grown, a number of new websites, blogs and tools have emerged to help publicise concerns and mobilise the online world to act offline.
And it has been through social networks that most of the protests have been organised. 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 using 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 .
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 contributed to Vemprarua.com's collaborative map.
One video that has been widely circulated on social networks teaches viewers “How to Film a Revolution”.
These protests born in a virtual universe ask people to get off the web and take to the streets, as exemplified with the hashtag #vemprarua (take to the streets).
A number of recent uprisings throughout the world, such as the Egyptian Revolution in 2011, have already shown how social media has the potential to encourage widespread social movements to claim citizen rights.
Brazil, a country that has an extremely large presence on 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 satisfaction 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:
"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 mobilisation function:
“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 media as a form of social participation:
“These communication technologies are not tools describing reality, but rather the building and rebuilding of reality. When a person is acting through these networks, she or he is not simply reporting. She or 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.”
*Deborah Baldelli is a blogger on Global Voices online.org.