On October 26, Brazilians head to the polls to elect their next president. As campaigns enter the final days, candidates are going beyond the airwaves to exploit the power of social media.
In what is being called one of the most exciting and hostile elections in Brazilian history, the race is as tight as ever. According to the latest polls, incumbent president Dilma Rousseff and Social Democrat Aécio Neves are “technically tied”. With only days to go before the big day, both candidates are striving to convince the few remaining undecided Brazilians that they are the answer for Brazil. Aécio Neves presents himself as the option of change, following 12 years of the Workers Party (PT) government, whereas Dilma Rousseff presents herself as the continuity of change from the neoliberal governments of the 1980s and 90s.
The latest round of polls validates the ‘hostile’ label associated with these elections. 71% of voters consider the degree of belligerence between the two candidates, particularly during the televised debates, as excessive. But what’s the picture like on social media?
Three in five voters – around 84 million Brazilians – are on social networks. Facebook alone has registered 58 million posts associated with these elections. This is partly due to electoral laws limiting the amount of daily airtime on TV and radio for each candidate. As a result, social media has become incredibly powerful as it is the only unrestricted platform candidates have.
This politicisation of social media channels in Brazil is a good sign. In a country where voting is mandatory, it highlights the fact that even in the virtual world politics is inspiring dialogue. Brazilians are becoming conscious that one’s voice online can reach millions. People are therefore able to campaign for their candidates, whether through voicing their opinions and defending their point of view – freedom of speech at its best – or, less positively, through slander and defamation.
However, by focusing their resources on online advertising, candidates appear to be stuck in the mindset of the television age. Instead of glorifying themselves online, they should take the time to engage with voters using the numerous platforms at their disposal. Until this happens, they will fail to take full advantage of the social media revolution.