Young Brazilians take protests to social media

SAO PAULO (AFP) - The protests for better living conditions rocking Brazil's streets have spilled over into social media, with a deluge of tweets, Facebook comments and thousands of pictures posted on Instagram.

For the past two weeks, hundreds of thousands of mainly young people have been marching across the country, a placard in one hand and in the other a smartphone to share their protests with the world.

As with the Arab Spring protests in 2011 and the recent unrest in Turkey, activists have used social media to mobilise supporters and plan events while authorities have monitored the same traffic to try to stay one step ahead.

On Twitter, a young woman exulted as more than 1.2 million people flood the streets in scores of cities Thursday to rail against the billions of dollars spent on the 2014 World Cup, as well as corruption and inadequate transport.

"This is what pride looks like. That was beautiful yesterday," she tweeted, adding the trademark slogan keywords #ogiganteacordou (A giant woke up) and #vemprarua (Come down to the streets).

On Saturday, online networks were abuzz with comments on President Dilma Rousseff's televised address late Friday in which she pledged to listen to the "voices of the streets" and offered a plan to improve public services.

"Let's hope she will follow through. I want deadlines," one person said.

"Listening to President Dilma depresses me. It's a joke. She treats us like idiots on national television," a critic tweeted.

"We want dates and times. Action. Promises are not enough," another said.

The social media chatter is being closely monitored by Brazilian intelligence as security forces scramble to contain the demonstrations, which have often been accompanied by clashes between protesters and police.

"What we are collecting via the Internet are public information such as dates of demonstrations," said Gustavo Weber, a spokesman for the Brazilian intelligence agency Abin.

This week, the daily O Estado de Sao Paulo reported that Brazilian intelligence services were monitoring the protests not just on social media but also through messenger services such as the smartphone application Whatsapp.

Mr Weber denied the report.

"This is inaccurate. We don't engage in spying. We don't break into users' accounts. We don't steal passwords," he told AFP.

Fierce debates are being waged on the Internet, including over the violence and vandalism committed by some of the protesters.

Authorities, including Mrs Rousseff, have said people have the right to express their views in peaceful rallies but have slammed the acts of vandalism and looting perpetrated in some cities.

"Let's protest peacefully, guys," said one Internet user after learning that two people died in Thursday's demonstrations.

In Sao Paulo the Free Pass Movement (MPL), which kicked off protests over higher mass transit fares two weeks ago, said on its Facebook page that the demonstrations would go on, even though the fare increases have been canceled.

On Friday some MPL spokesmen had said they would stop calling for protests to signal opposition to the violence and to the presence of political parties in the marches.

That brought howls of disapproval on Twitter.

"The struggle continues. It must, to bring about change in Brazil," said one user.