Social Media in the 2013 Brazilian Protests

This week in class, we have talked about the power of social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook in fostering revolutionary activity, especially during the Arab Spring. According to the study done by Howard et. al., social media helped shape political debates in the Arab Spring and discussions on sites such as Facebook often immediately preceded major protests on the ground. Use of social media also helped garner international support for the movements in the Middle East. An interesting case to compare to the Arab Spring is the recent protests in Brazil that have actively used social media, especially Twitter and Facebook. The protests started when the government raised bus fares in some of Brazil’s major cities, but soon spread to critiquing other issues, especially the government’s excessive spending building massive stadiums for the upcoming World Cup and Olympic Games in Brazil. The protesters are mostly middle-class, educated, and under the age of 30. It is interesting to compare these protests to the Arab Spring because they have used social media in similar ways. Like the Arab Spring movement, young Brazilian protesters have used social media sites to coordinate events and spread their message internationally. However, unlike the Arab Spring, the Brazilian protests are not directed against any one leader in particular and their demands are not as concrete. In an NBC News article, Caroline Stauffer reports that social media has not only helped coordinate the actions of the Brazilian protesters, but it has only splintered the movement in some ways. She cites the fact that the movement has no clear leadership. Social media allows these young protesters to coordinate anonymously and without a defined group of people at the head of the movement. This has caused some confusion within the movement, and some of the protests have turned violent, with police using tear gas and rubber bullets to stop demonstrators. I think that this case is especially interesting because it shows that social media can be a democratic way to organize protests and spread a message, but that it also has the potential to fragment a movement due to a lack of a clear leadership base or concrete demands. Social media is a very new tool in organizing revolutions, and it is important to take into account all of its possible advantages and disadvantages.

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