Brazil: Blogs banned from the 2008 elections

 by Paula Góes

 

Brazil is warming up for local elections later this year, in October, when voters will go to the polls to choose their local government representatives. The Supreme Electoral Court [the TSE, the Portuguese acronym for Tribunal Superior Eleitoral] has just passed the regulations for voting, and again, the opportunity to better discuss electronic political propaganda through the Internet was missed. Tools like Twitter, Orkut, Facebook, You Tube, electronic newsletters, text messages, blogs and other ‘social web’ facilities – technologies which nowadays are essential for voters to inform and empower themselves – were not subject to a more comprehensive legislation and, as a result, these are again left in limbo.

Two of the regulation’s articles have especially raised blogger’s eye-brows, starting with the very first article:

“The electoral campaign for the 2008 regional elections, even if through the Internet or other electronic devices, will be subject to the terms of this resolution”

And second the 18th article, which states:

“The electoral campaign on the Internet will only be allowed on candidates’ purpose-built web pages intended exclusively for the campaign”

Add to these lines the decision that any campaign for the 2008 local elections will only be allowed from July 6, even on the Internet (in fact it has already started on social networking websites and blogs), and stir up this mix of misinformation. Will netizens be silenced?

Idelber Avelar [pt] was probably the first blogger to raise the issue by analysing the above mentioned articles and concluding that netizens’ voices have indeed been banned:

Em outras palavras? Ou eu já não entendo a língua portuguesa ou o Tribunal Superior Eleitoral acaba de proibir a campanha política na Internet, com a exceção de uma página para cada candidato. Está proibida, nos blogs, no orkut, no facebook, qualquer manifestação de preferência eleitoral que possa ser entendida como campanha.

In other words? Either I no longer understand the Portuguese language or the Supreme Electoral Court has just prohibited political campaigning on the Internet with the exception of a page for each candidate. Any expression of electoral preference that could be construed as a campaign is forbidden on blogs, orkut, Facebook.

Gica Trierweiler [pt] makes it clear that solely she decides what to write about on her own blog:

Pára tudo e pára agora. Desde quando o TSE pode mandar no conteúdo do meu blog? Se eu quiser falar sobre meus segredos de infância, eu vou falar sobre os meus segredos de infância. Se eu quiser falar sobre cachorros albinos, eu vou falar sobre cachorros albinos. Se eu quiser falar de política, eu vou falar de política. Vou recomendar candidato, vou discutir propostas, vou denunciar injustiças, vou cumprir meu papel de cidadã, independente de expor minhas opiniões no boteco ou em blogs.

TSE, não tente ferrar com o pingo de democracia deste país. Blogueiros, uni-vos.

Stop the press now. Since when can the TSE fix my blog’s content? If I want to talk about my childhood secrets, I will talk about my childhood secrets. If I want to talk about albino dogs, I will talk about albino dogs. If I want to talk about politics, I will talk about politics. I’ll recommend candidates, I’ll discuss proposals, I’ll denounce injustices, I’ll fulfill my role as a citizen, regardless of wether I expose my views in a bar or in blogs. TSE, do not try to fuck the tiny democracy in this country up. Bloggers, let’s get together.

Sérgio Amadeu [pt] demands clear information on what is allowed and what is not, and points out that the Internet can make the difference in engaging voters:

Será que o TSE poderia esclarecer melhor as proibições que pretende impor à campanha na Internet? Um último comentário: Barack Obama, dificilmente chegaria onde chegou se tivesse que seguir uma resolução semelhante a brasileira. Sua campanha foi quase que totalmente feita a partir do Facebook.

I wonder if the TSE could clarify the prohibitions that it seeks to impose on campaigning on the Internet? A final comment: Barack Obama probably wouldn’t have got where he got if he had to follow a similar resolution to the Brazilian one. His campaign was almost entirely done on Facebook.

Perrusi [pt] also raises the point that blogging is ‘the’ tool to engage especially younger voters and that the TSE decision may have a negative impact on the democratic process:

E logo agora que a internet, mais especificamente a blogosfera, possui um peso eleitoral considerável, a começar entre os jovens. Como o TSE é uma gerontocracia, levanto a hipótese prosaica de que os ministros desconhecem a diferença entre um spam e um orkut ou um blog. Cometeram um erro imbecil que acarretará consequências antidemocráticas. Impedem assim a livre associação e organização política no mundo virtual visando as eleições. Outra hipótese é que são mesmo autoritários, independentemente da faixa etária.

Just now that the Internet, more specifically the blogosphere, has considerable weight in the election process, starting with young people. Considering that the TSE is a gerontocracy, I raise the prosaic hypothesis that ministers do not know the difference between spam and orkut or blogs. They have made a ludicrous mistake that will have anti-democratic consequences. They have prevented, thus, free association and political organization in the virtual world aimed at the elections. Another hypothesis is that they are really authoritarian, regardless of their age.

Following a similar school of thought, Pedro Dória [pt] says that “it’s like banning people from wearing their candidate’s t-shirt or pinning a button on their lapel”, but the blogger believes that this decision might have been more ill-conceived than made in bad faith by less than technological savvy legislators:

O pior, certamente, é que não houve má fé. Houve incompreensão. Aos 63 anos, é bem possível que o ministro relator Ari Pargendler não saiba distinguir um YouTube dum Yahoo!; um Orkut dum BitTorrent. Sua boa intenção é evidente: quis proibir o spam.Mas, ao tentar impedir o abuso, inviabilizou qualquer campanha eleitoral que sirva para agregar a população em seu direito pleno de se informar, se relacionar, se organizar politicamente, trocar idéias para então escolher. Ao confundir um perfil no Orkut ou um canal no Twitter com um galhardete que suja a cidade ou mensagens mil que entopem a caixa de email, o ministro proibiu que os candidatos circulem nas ruas da Internet e se manifestem em busca de seus eleitores da mesma forma que fazem nas ruas das cidades, pessoalmente.

The worst thing, of course, is that there was no bad faith. There was a misunderstanding. Being 63 years old, it is quite possible that the commentator minister Ari Pargendler doesn’t know how to tell a YouTube apart from a Yahoo!, an Orkut from a BitTorrent. His good intention is clear: he wanted to ban spam. However, when trying to prevent abuse, he made it impossible for any political campaign to gather people entitled to obtain information, have a relationship, organize themselves politically, exchange ideas and then make up their minds. When mistaking an Orkut profile or a Twitter channel for city-littering or for a thousand messages filling up in-boxes, the minister forbade candidates from circulating on the virtual streets of the Internet and expressing themselves, looking for their constituents in the same way they do on city streets, face to face.

Alex Luna [pt] agrees that the problem is a lack of knowledge about new technologies:

Eu, cidadão, posso expressar o meu voto? Em público? Na internet? Segundo a lei, não. (…) Senhores, a ignorância de alguns dos nossos legisladores, governantes e juízes sobre a internet, as conexões e possibilidades do mundo atual é bastante mais grave.

Can I, a citizen, express my vote? In public? On the internet? According to the law, no. (…) Ladies and gentleman, some of our legislators, governors and judges’ ignorance about the Internet, connections and opportunities in today’s world is far more serious.

Mauro Almeida [pt] who is a lawyer specialized in electoral law, shares the same point of view that the TSE’s vision is retrograde:

A internet não coube na resolução do TSE sobre propaganda. Ela ainda não cabe no Direito de um modo geral, mas no campo eleitoral não poderia ter sido ignorada mais uma vez. A resolução repete outras anteriores que só mencionam os sites oficiais, permitidos a partir de 6 de julho, com o domínio próprio http://www.fulano.cand.br/. Mas não é disso que se trata, né. A internet já passou da fase dos sites faz tempo. Os Ministros do TSE ainda não conhecem, ao que parece, a internet interativa, a dos comentários que fazem a notícia ou a campanha, se for o caso. Como impedí-los, os internautas, de fazerem a campanha que quiserem, manifestando livre e gratuitamente sua opinião? A Constituição autoriza, poderia a Lei ou Resolução do TSE proibir?

The Internet did not fit in the TSE resolution about propaganda. It still does not fit in the Law in general, but it should not have been ignored one more time in the election period. The resolution repeats previous ones that only mention official sites, allowed only from July 6, with their own domains like http://www.so-and-so.cand.br/. But this is not what it is about, is it? The Internet has gone far beyond the website phase. The TSE Ministers haven’t yet come across, it seems, the interactive Internet, the Internet of comments that make the news or campaigns, if that is the case. How will they stop them, the netizens, campaigning the way they want, free and freely expressing their opinion? The Constitution gives them permission to, can the law or a TSE resolution ban them?

The answer is ‘no’, according to Labor Judge Jorge Alberto Araujo[pt], who believes that some bloggers’ interpretation of the Law, as if the Internet has been completely banned from the elections, is apocalyptic, considering that the law deals with electoral propaganda which, per se, is much different from public expression on the Internet:

Outra coisa completamente distinta seria a manifestação autêntica de autores de blogs e outras páginas da Rede Mundial de Computadores de externar publicamente a sua preferência por determinado candidato e partido, no que se estaria exercendo o direito de expressão e a liberdade de pensamento que, por serem direitos fundamentais, consagrados constitucionalmente, não podem ser afastados através de uma mera Resolução de uma corte judicial.

Another completely different thing would be bloggers’ and other Internet page authors’ genuine expression of public support for a given candidate and Party, in that they would be exercising their right to freedom of speech and freedom of thought which, for they are basic rights enshrined in the constitution, can not be withdrawn by a simple resolution of a judicial court.

The full set of resolutions and instructions for the 2008 Elections is available on the TSE website [pt].