Edition Porto Alegre

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On the 15th of August 2014, KAS hosted its 5th edition of “Democracia Virtual” in the city of Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul. The event took place in cooperation with the University ESPM Sul and the Federation of Brazilian Students of International Relations. The event had at its core the understanding of how the internet and social media in particular affect the workings of civil society and political culture in general.

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Gregory Ryan (left), foreign- and defence policy project coordinator and Christian Matthäus (right), Deputy Representative of the KAS Brazil, respresenting the foundation

Gregory Ryan (left), foreign- and defence policy project coordinator and Christian Matthäus (right), Deputy Representative of the KAS Brazil, respresenting the foundation

As part of its activities on the new focus of Virtual and Liquid Democracy, KAS Brazil continued the discussion around social media, citizenry participation and government openness.

First to speak was Fabro Steibel, communications professor at ESPM in Rio de Janeiro and a political advisor to the Brazilian government on open virtual government. Fabro argued that government must become sexy, so as that citizens would participate in a more keen and comprehensive way. He said that government traditionally is a highly institutionalized enterprise, not necessarily compatible with the dynamic change of the internet, or rather, that government is unable to follow up to the demands as put forward by the people. However, government cannot just continue to ignore these dynamisms and must thus adapt so as to remain relevant. One way forward, Fabro suggested, would imply to seek inspiration in existing cyberspace derived processes. Fabro suggested four applications: Friendship and matchmaking mobile apps, crowd intelligence, Gamification Apps, and multi stakeholder process.

Friendship apps provide prospective users with the possibility to decide with one swish on whether they are interested in starting a conversation or not. In a similar way, Fabro suggested that governments could provide an application that would make it possible for citizens to choose between alternating policy solutions on given local challenges. Crowed intelligence apps could inspire new methods to seek and device solutions to challenges of popular concerns through a process that would involve large segments of the public. Gamification Apps, on the other hand, could inspire a higher rate of citizens’ participation in public affairs in as that a given participant is rewarded through a video-game like gratification system. While multi-stakeholder processes are negotiation methods that include civil society, academia, the private sector as well as government. Fabro’s conclusion was that by adapting working solutions from existing methods and programs could turn government more open and inclusive.

Second to speak was Ana Simão, professor for International Relations at ESPM Sul. Ana presented a critical analysis on the immediate transformatory potential of the internet. She said that in Brazil so far only 50% of the population is online. While most wealthy citizens are regularly on the internet, many of the poor are still unconnected. This means, that by providing exclusive functions through the internet, the internet risks to cut out many citizens. Unless this imbalance is overcome, the internet could not present a viable alternative to the traditional forms of participation. Moreover, studies have shown that Brazilians dispose over relative low levels of social capital, which in turn implies that they do not trust neither their own communities, nor their own government, making it thus hard for networks to seriously engage and solve challenges –virtual and real life. Ana concluded by arguing that for cybergovernment to work, Brazil needed to overcome challenges centred on social structures in general, while simultaneously working towards greater inclusion of broad internet participation.

Gustavo Diniz, researcher at the Igarapé Institute, a Brazilian think tank, was next to speak. Gustavo started off by providing an overview of the legacy of the Brazilian demonstrations that had taken place in 2013. He said that while the government had understood that it had to provide broader virtual public services, it also, and more subtile expanded its capacity for virtual repression. The most visible result was the expansion of the armed forces’ cyber defence unit CDCiber and the powers of the Brazilian intelligence agency ABIN. Through these entities Brazil is able to monitor groups that act through cyberspace, and to identify individual members should so be necessary. Moreover, through the recently enacted “Marco Civil”, a package of legislation on the internet, public intuitions do have the prerogatives to pursue perceived adversaries of the state.

Hugo Suppo, professor for the History of International Relations of the Federal State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), put the process of virtual democracy in a broad historical context by offering a genealogy on the nexus of information and politics. Hugo argued that the internet is but one stage in the evolutionary process of means of communications. Before the internet, the printing press had changed the workings of society and politics, after that radio and TV based programs had a similar effect. What is however revolutionary about the internet, is that while before information-power was often concentrated in the hands of a few, the internet had made the playing field more equal; or rather, now everyone is a potential creator of content. However, as before, the way a given issue is perceived is the product of a contest involving many narratives, and as such, players with more resources and weight continue to prevail. Moreover, since the number of content creators has exploded, the process has become vast and complex.

The event was the first of KAS’ “Democracia Virtual” series taking place in the south of Brazil and attracted ESPM students of International Relations and Marketing. The discussion on the topic continues, as always, online through the use of hashtags #KAS and #DemocraciaVirtual .


Friedrich Christian Matthäus, Gregory Ryan

Publication series

Event Reports


Brazil, August 15, 2014

Democracia Virtual em parceria com a ESPM Sul em Porto Alegre.