On the social media campaign trail in Brazil

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There's hardly a country in the world where social media are so widely used as in Brazil. Ahead of October's presidential election, the incumbent, Lula da Silva's party has hired the services of the US social media company which was instrumental in Barack Obama's election victory.
 
Brazil has the largest population of internet users in Latin America and currently ranks fifth in the world. Out of a population of 195 million, 72 million Brazilians have internet access. Last year, the number of mobile phones in the country reached 176 million. And Brazil is ranked second in the world in terms of Twitter subscribers, with more than 10 million accounts.
 
For a country where socio-economic disparities remain a major problem, these are impressive numbers and the number of people using new technologies in Brazil seems set to grow and grow.
 
With this in mind, candidates running in the Brazilian presidential election in October are conducting big part of their campaigns on new media, including social network websites Facebook and Orkut (the most popular in Brazil), blogs, Twitter and SMS.
 
José Serra, the candidate for the Brazilian Social-Democrat Party (PSDB), was one of the first politicians to sign up for a Twitter account. Currently he has the most followers: over 213,000. Marina Silva, from the Green Party (PV), has about 29,000. Dilma Rousseff, the candidate from the Labour Party (PT), the party of the current Brazilian president, Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, was last to get on Twitter and has around 40,000 followers. *
 
US success
The use of new media tools in political campaigns is not altogether new. It had its biggest boost in 2008, during the American presidential campaign, in which Barack Obama and John McCain extensively used Twitter and YouTube to promote their activities and political programs.
 
Conscious of these facts, Dilma Rousseff (PT) hired the same American company responsible for the Obama campaign, Blue State Digital, to try to repeat their success in Brazil. They already have a team ready to post positive comments for Dilma and also to defend possible attacks in blogs and political websites.
 
Nevertheless, it's not a case of simply applying the 'American formula' to Brazilian politics. Firstly, it is worth keeping in mind that while 80 percent of Americans are connected to the internet, in Brazil that figure is only around 36 percent. Also presidential election campaigns in Brazil last four months: in the US there is around two years of campaigning.
 
Ban
Moreover, it was only in 2009 that using the internet for political campaigns became mainstream in Brazil. In 2008 there was a huge outcry around the use of internet for political campaigns. Mayoral candidate for Rio de Janeiro, Fernando Gabeira, used new media during his campaign, mainly blogs. This resulted in a Supreme Electoral Court ban on political campaigning and advertisements through e-mail, SMS, YouTube or any other social network websites, which remained in force until 2009.
 
So, this election sees Brazilian politicians officially harnessing the power of the internet for the first time. The impact probably won't be as large as it was in the US, but it will certainly influence many people and may give indications of how new media will be used in future elections.
 
* figures: 27 April 2010