Between mobilization, freedom of speech and the spread of threats

Event “Virtual Democracy“ shows potentials and risks of the internet in a polarized society

Also available in Deutsch, Português

The seminar “Virtual Democracy” was organized by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation Brazil (KAS) in cooperation with its partners Instituto Igarapé and Universidade Federal de Paraíba (UFPB) in João Pessoa on October 24th and 25th. It focused on the discrepancy between the mobilization potential and the possible threats of the internet. On the one hand, the internet enables politically underrepresented groups to stimulate changes, on the other hand, mathematical algorithms have a polarizing effect on the opinion making process and can increase the problem of virtual discrimination.

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Cecília Olliveira, editor of The Intercept Brasil, during her opening speech

Cecília Olliveira, editor of The Intercept Brasil, during her opening speech

Around 270 participants joined the seminar “Virtual Democracy” on the 24th and 25th October 2016, organized by the KAS in cooperation with the Instituto Igarapé and the UFPB in the city of João Pessoa in the Northeast of Brazil. This continued the success of the previous years, centering the discussions on current topics.

Directly at the beginning of the seminar it was emphasized strongly that through its wide accessibility, the internet gives also underprivileged parts of the society the opportunity to spread their opinion. As shown in the panel debate with the topic “The internet as instrument of social mobilization”, this however is determined by in how far the virtual movements are able to trigger political debates and hence have an effect on the legislative. Mathematic algorithms support this process, as they group together the positions of single individuals and, consequently, promote their approximation through the filtering of information. Especially women use the opportunity to complain about and raise awareness of cases of abuse and harassment in online-communities with the goal of preventing revictimization. Hereby, they are more and more encouraged to complain officially through the judicative.

In the second panel dedicated to “The internet as promoter of freedom of opinion and information”, the speakers talked about topics such as problems that can derive from those algorithms, like a distortion of information and thus a polarization of opinions that might not always be factually proven. During the discussion round under the title “The internet as channel of distribution of threats”, emphasis was put on the vulnerability of women who publish a case of harassment and who consequently are in danger of becoming even more victimized through virtual discrimination attacks.

In general, the event demonstrated that the internet can be used as a tool to articulate and consolidate ideas for political reforms, expressed by the Brazilian population during the protests of the last months. However, one also has to consider the possible threats that are linked to this, and which are often being underestimated in politically and socially polarized Brazil. Not only the relevance and timeliness of the topic, but especially the positive feedback of the audience confirmed the KAS in continuing the series of events in other Brazilian cities.


Aline Bruno Soares, Valerie Gruber

Publication series

Event Reports


Brazil, October 31, 2016