You've probably heard about the World Cup protests in Brazil this weekend. They were scheduled in over 30 cities, but didn't see very big crowds, except in São Paulo. In that city, crowd estimates ran from 1,000 to 2,500 people; one protester was shot by military police, and nearly 130 people were arrested.
What's behind the rallying cry of these protests, "não vai ter Copa," or there won't be a World Cup? And why is the government using social media to try to put an end to this idea?
The phrase emerged during the June protests, and a movement was created around it. You can find Não Vai Ter Copa groups on Facebook, and proponents use the hashtag #NaoVaiTerCopa on Twitter. Aside from this weekend's protests--which organizers hope to repeat leading up to the games--the movement has mostly taken place on social media. It's also been adopted by Anonymous, which argues that the government is spending too much money on the event and not enough on education and health. The hacker group has used the phrase during recent hackings of government sites and social media accounts.
Because the June protests were catalyzed on social media and spread across the country using these networks, the government doesn't want to be caught off guard like it was last time. This week, one of the president's top ministers admitted that the 2013 demonstrations left government officials "afraid" and "perplexed." He added: "[There was] a certain pain, an incomprehension, and almost a feeling of ingratitude. [It was] like saying: we've done so much for these people, and now they're rising up against us." And importantly, he also pointed out that internet culture influenced the protests, in that people now expect things in life to move more quickly, given the speed with which things take place online.
As such, the government wants to get ahead of the Não Vai Ter Copa movement. It's trying to prevent more protests, especially ones that could be tied to the Black Blocs group or with potential for violence. In a way, it wants to discredit the movement by attempting to prove that the World Cup will be beneficial for Brazilians. The definitive nature of the slogan, which could be seen as a way of implying that people could disrupt the games, has really shaken the powers that be.
So on January 10, President Dilma Rousseff tapped two federal officials to "promote a dialogue" with social movements and citizens about the World Cup. A few days later, the Worker's Party began promoting the hashtag #VaiTerCopa, or "There will be a World Cup." But this reactive and somewhat scolding phrase was quickly abandoned.
After that, the motto was replaced with #CopadasCopas, or Cup of Cups, which is now being used on the president's Twitter and Facebook pages, as well as other government social media profiles. After Rousseff had announced this so-called dialogue with social groups, a government spokesperson said on January 22 that the government would not in fact engage the #NaoVaiTerCopa movement. "It doesn't make sense," he said. Instead, the idea is to deny rumors or falsehoods about the government and to share positive messages. So far, the government's social media messaging has been that the World Cup will bring benefits to all Brazilians, like urban transport and jobs.
This stands in direct contrast to what at least one expert says is a successful digital strategy for the government. In August, when I interviewed Fábio Malini, who studies data patterns in Brazilian social media at the Federal University of Espirito Santo's Research Laboratory on Internet and Cyberculture, this is what he said:
"When the government starts an open dialogue online, it has to adapt to the reality of the web. It’s a reality in which there’s no possibility to construct a singular truth. The government must create space, especially multimedia spaces, to form a direct dialogue. Whether it’s the president, her ministers, or the government’s technocrats, they should be in direct contact in real time, live in some cases, with people who have different political positions and demands."
My guess is that this unilateral approach won't be very successful in discrediting or weakening the #NaoVaiTerCopa movement. At the same time, the movement is still relatively small and with less than five months remaining until the games, it seems impossible that the Cup won't happen. Plus, by devoting so much time and energy to fighting this group, the government could actually be giving it more clout and legitimacy than it would otherwise receive.
At this point, protests during the games seem inevitable, and containing them with better trained, less violent security forces seems like a better approach than trying to outright prevent them. But the government's already thought of that, too. Along with new riot police units to be deployed during protests, the military will be on standby to replace police, when necessary. In any event, it's one of the first times the Brazilian federal government is employing social media with a preventative, proactive approach in response to a social movement. Engagement, however, may have to wait.