A tech-enabled revolution unfolds in Brazil

Activists use technology to spread the word about civil unrest across the country.
Written by Angelica Mari, Contributing Writer

Brazilian activists are employing a variety of technology tools to create and share information of anti-government protests as the demonstrations grow in size and influence.

Protests in São Paulo.
Image: Movimento Passe Livre

Since last week, thousands of participants have taken over the streets of São Paulo and other major capitals, initially to protest about bus fare increases. The debate has since become broader to include other issues, from the rampant corruption in Brazil to the lack of investment in basic infrastructure and the modus operandi of the military police.

On Twitter, as well as the "official" hashtags of the protests #changebrazil and Portuguese variable #mudabrasil, the tag #protestosp has been employed by activists in São Paulo to propagate information from those on the ground — such as warnings about random police searches for vinegar, a substance used by protesters as relief for tear gas effects.

To debate the original discussion topic — the bus fare increase of R$0,20 ($0,09) — São Paulo-based activist group Movimento Passe Livre (Free Pass Movement, in Portuguese) has amassed a huge following on Facebook. Currently the most influential discussion group originating from the unrest, the movement is leading a major demonstration in São Paulo via the social network, which will take place later today (June 17), and had over 266,000 confirmed attendees at the time of writing.

Warning posted on a Tumblr blog advising activists not to use the underground to get to demonstrations in São Paulo to avoid police searches.
Image: O que não sai na TV

Facebook has played an important role in fostering citizen journalism, too. As major mass media vehicles continue to present a biased account of the facts, groups such as Vinegar Wars, a media center, launched over the weekend. With news curated by protesters, translation tasks are being crowdsourced for multi-lingual content production. The idea here is create an outlet in various languages to inform the international audience about what is going on.

Tumblr blogs are also amongst the initiatives intended to spread awareness. The blog "O que não sai na TV" ("What doesn't show on TV", in Portuguese) is a collection of multimedia content from the front line, as well as a public service central with information such as telephone numbers of volunteer lawyers who offered services to arrested activists.

Discussion lists on platforms such as Google have also been actively involved in the protests. Such groups include LuluzinhaCamp and FemMaterna, where the combined supporter base of several hundred women has organized itself to provide voluntary childcare facilities for the mothers willing to take part in the protest, food for the activists, and shared wi-fi access.

The "V for Vinagre" game, based on the São Paulo protests.
Image: Flux Game Studio

As occurrences such as sexual violence against female activists and unprovoked beatings at demonstrations perpetrated by the Brazilian police have become public, a location-based, mobile-friendly crowdmap powered by not-for-profit software developer Ushahidi was launched to report incidents across the country.

On a light-hearted note, tech-savvy protesters have also launched a Facebook game themed around the civil unrest. In "V de Vinagre" ("V for Vinegar", in Portuguese), is inspired in the "V for Vendetta" comic books, and has the objective of escaping the police with as many vinegar bottles as possible. The player can progress through the game levels that go from "petty criminal" to "communist".

Do you know about other online resources used by activists in Brazil right now? Let me know on Twitter: @angelicamari

Você sabe de outros recursos online usados por ativistas brasileiros no momento? Me avise no Twitter @angelicamari

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