The charts that show Brazil’s biggest problem is violence

Brazil’s most recent numbers on violence are staggering: every three weeks, there are more killings in Brazil than in terror attacks everywhere else in the world in 2017.

Per week 1,136 people are murdered in Brazil, according to a report released on Monday 6th. The figures are called a “daily tragedy” by the authors, which compared the stats with the 3,314 deaths by all terror attacks worldwide until May this year.

The soaring levels of violence places Brazil as one of the most violent countries in the world – the nation’s murder rate is five times higher than the global average . In some states, the rate is ten times above that.   Brazil murder map

Who suffer the most?

The victims are the poorest: young black men with few years of education, living in a poverty trap that condemns them to have no better prospects than their parents did.

According to the report, almost half of the 59,080 killings in Brazil in 2015 were against those aged between 15-29.

When split by colour, the figures show how race impact the probability of you living or dying in Brazil: while the murder rate among non-black youths decreased over time (-12.2%), killings among black youths soared (+18.2%).

“The typical kind of victims remains the same: men, young, black and with low levels of education. However, in the last decade, the bias of violence against black youths has increased further,” noted in the report Daniel Ricardo de Castro Cerqueira, a researcher at the think-tank Ipea, which compiled the numbers.

.Murder rate gap

The race bias is also an unfavorable element for black women: while killings of non-black females decreased 7.4% between 2005 and 2015, murders against black women jumped by over a fifth.

“There are racial differences,” said Cerqueira about the findings.

Female killings

Why such violence?

There is a strong correlation between violence and low levels of education and social equality, the report says.

While Brazil’s most peaceful city, Jaraguá do Sul, has a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0,803 – similar to Portugal’s 0.830 – the country’s most violent city, Altamira, has a 0,665 HDI – similar to Botswana’s 0.698.

Jaraguá do Sul is located in one of Brazil’s most developed state, Santa Catarina, while Altamira is placed at one of the nations’ most uneducated one, Pará, where poverty, poor sanitarian conditions and low levels of schooling damage future prospects and breed violence.

Number of killings in Brazil over a decade

Brazil’s “national tragedy“, as the researchers phrase it, harms not only Brazilian’s right to life but also the country’s economic prospects. Cerqueira estimates that 1.5% of Brazil’s USD 1.77 trillion GDP is lost to violence.

“Premature deaths represent in themselves a cost of social welfare as they reduce the life expectancy and therefore the ability of individuals to produce and to consume,” wrote Cerqueira in a recent study about the cost of violence among youths in Brazil.

“It is undoubtedly a great human tragedy, with immeasurable implications,” he adds.


The World’s Penicillin Problem

Late in November 2016 I received news I had been granted generous funding from the European Journalism Centre to investigate an ongoing penicillin shortage affecting multiple countries.

With this project I aim to investigate the causes and consequences of a long worldwide shortage of this essential medicine, especifically the injectable form of the antibiotic Benzathine Penicillin G.

Lack of access to this medicine, listed as an essential drug by the World Health Organization, can have dire consequences as it is the primary treatment for syphilis and for rheumatic fever – illnesses that affect millions of people worldwide.

The stories will look into the supply chain of this medicine to understand what is leading to shortages; into the victims who can’t access this drug; and will examine what are the risks of antibiotic resistance associated with penicillin shortage and misuse of substitute drugs.

The funding will allow me to do fieldwork in a few countries, including India, South Africa, Brazil and England, UK.

I have been lucky to assemble a great coalition of news partners, including Al Jazeera English (international), El Mundo (Spain), Folha de S. Paulo (Brazil), Quartz (international) and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (UK), which have all agreed to run the stories.

While I am the project lead, I will also have the support of Ashley Kirk, data journalist at The Telegraph, who will be assisting me with everything data-related.

This is a longer term news project, expected to be released between March and April 2017. More details about what I will be working on for the next few months can be found here.

Zika is not the only disease plaguing pregnant women in Brazil

Recently I wrote a news story for Quartz about the increasing numbers of syphilis infections among pregnant women and newborns in Brazil.

While the country’s spotlight is on the microcephaly-linked Zika virus, cases of pregnant women and newborn babies suffering from syphilis silently jumped year after year as a shortage in penicillin hits the country.

Both diseases are linked to birth defects, such as severe brain damage and deformities – but press coverage and public investment have been disproportionately targeting the mosquito-borne virus.

Syphilis is currently more deadly than Zika infection – it leads to one in every 10 infected pregnancies ending in either fetal or baby death. In 2013 alone, the disease led to 695 neonatal and infant deaths in Brazil.

“People don’t see syphilis as a serious disease as much as they see HIV and Zika, and we are seeing a comeback of the infection, which is now routinely detected in pregnant women,” says Jorge Senise, infectologist at a health center for women with STIs at Federal University of Sao Paulo.

The full story can be read at Quartz.

Brazil’s rape culture in numbers

The mass rape of a 16-year-old girl in Rio de Janeiro earlier this week has shocked Brazil.

Videos and pictures of the crime were widely shared on social media before the victim could notify the police, including photos of the teenager bleeding with comments of celebration by the rapists.

No one has been charged yet and the police officer leading the investigation has reportedly asked the teenager if she “is used to group sex”.

The crime has caused an outpouring on social media, with human rights campaigners arguing on whether there is a rape culture in Brazil.

In a poll by Brazilian Forum for Public Security last October, nine in every ten women surveyed said they were afraid of sexual violence. The most frightened were black female, with 70 percent saying they were scared they could be sexually attacked.   

According to official figures, there were over 47,000 cases of rape in Brazil in 2014 alone, one in every 11 minutes. But the total number could be much higher. According to estimates by Ipea, a government-led think-tank, only 10 percent of the attacks are reported to the police.

DataWrapper - Rape

The worse figure is from Roraima, Brazil’s northernmost state, where a rate of 55,5 cases has been reported in every 100,000 people. The figure is twice higher than the national average.

In the map below the reported cases are distributed by state. The darkest the colour, the highest the rate of attacks. Click here for the interactive version and find out rates and total number of cases per state:

Planilha 2 (1)

Children and teenagers

Figures from Violence Map show that the rate of cases involving those under 19 are much higher than of sexual attacks involving adults.

Cases against young people in locations such as Acre is almost three times higher than the national average.

A sample of 12,087 cases only collected in 2011 by the Health Ministry showed that 70 percent of the assaults were against children or teenagers, according to a report by Ipea. Half of the victims were under 13.

Bills in Congress could make health care harder for victims

A new bill by conservative lawmakers could make even harder for rape victims to receive health care after assaults.

A new legislation presented last year by former Lower House speaker Eduardo Cunha aims to change the current law that allow legal abortion to women who have been raped. Brazil already has one of the toughest legislation restricting the procedure.

If the new rules are passed, women would need to prove they have been raped even before they could get the after pill in public hospitals. Abortion penalties are also set to increase.

5 things I learned at #CodaBR, Brazil’s first data journalism conference


A group of data researchers, journalists and students gathered together on Saturday 21st in São Paulo for the #CodaBR – Conferência Brasileira de Jornalismo de Dados, Brazil’s first round of talks and workshops about data journalism.

The event was organized by the School of Data, an organization that offers data training around the world, with the support of the Brazilian Network Information Center (, a nonprofit civil entity working on the .br domain in Brazil.

Over 10 hours of events, participants attended workshops on data cleaning with Python, mapping with GIS, statistical analysis, R programming for journalism, data scraping, plus talks on freedom of information, privacy and digital security.

Here are my five takeaways from the #CodaBR:

1) Journalists need to push for open data

Freedom of Information (Lei de Acesso à Informação in Portuguese) is relatively new in Brazil – the first law guaranteeing access to public information to citizens (and the press) has effectively been in place since 2012. The law aimed to bring more transparency by determining that any information of public interest should be made public. It also gave citizens and journalists the power to request any data to public bodies and get it free of charge.

Freedom of Information advocate Fabiano Angélico spoke about how transparency platforms could be accessed more by journalists in Brazil. In a time that newspapers in the country are picking up legal fights with local governments for accessing public data, journalists could go further by using the tools available to monitor power and hold decision makers into account.

Websites such as Dados Abertos, Portal da Transparência and Siga Brasil could work as sources for researching data on public bodies.

By adding pressure to public bodies to release information under the freedom of information law, reporters could push for more open data and transparency.  

For those interested in using freedom of information to request access to data, here is a practical guide by Abraji. 

2) There is a substitute for VLOOKUPs and it’s pretty neat

Everyone who has had to run a VLOOKUP has probably faced at some point a bunch of #N/A and #ERROR results on the spreadsheet. They’ve probably fell into despair when they couldn’t find a reason why the formula was broken. The good news is that apparently there is a formula that does the same as VLOOKUPs – with less drama.

A combination of the formulas Match and Index on Google Sheets work well as a substitute of the hateable VLOOKUP. The tip was given by Marco Tulio Pires, from the School of Data, at the data analysis workshop. The crowd couldn’t hide its excitement.

By using the two formulas, we managed to combine two spreadsheets, getting them to navigate through both sheets and bring us only the data we wanted to have in our analysis. Happiness defined.

A tutorial on how to combine Match and Index is here

3) R is a great tool for visualization, not only for data analysis

Previously, I had a blurred idea of what R was and always thought it was great for extracting and structuring data, plus analysing this information. But R is much, much more!

As David Opoku from the School of Data put it, “R is an environment where you can do all of your data work”. As data journalists we are used to analyse data in Excel and then work on visualizations on third-party platforms – whether it’s CartoDB, Tableau, or something else.

What surprised me is that there are great R packages out there to work with, and these packages allow you to produce powerful visualizations. One that we managed to get a sense of was the JavaScript library Leaflet, useful for interactive maps.

Here is a tutorial for the package on GitHub. 

4) Latin America is doing great in data journalism – we just don’t talk about it

There is great data journalism being done in Latin America – we just spend less time speaking about it. Projects such as TV Globo’s project on the killings by São Paulo police, as well as Ojo Publico’s investigation on political campaign funding in Peru, show the breadth of data narratives in the region.

Such projects show that journalists in Latin America are pushing themselves into telling stories backed by data rather than based on anecdotal evidence only.

Here is a list of projects highlighted at the conference:

  • A Farra do FIES – Estadão Dados uncovered how the government gave billions of reais to private Brazilian universities in order to increase the number of graduates in the country, but failed to do so
  • LGBT-phobia – a project for Huffington Post Brazil highlight the lack of public information on violence against LGBT people
  • Killings by the police – by analysing police records in São Paulo obtained through freedom of information, TV Globo found out that one in every four people murdered in the city was killed by the police
  • #FondosdePapel – an investigation by Ojo Publico in Peru uncovered a network of corruption in the political campaign funding system in the country
  • The real face of desnutrition – Plaza Publica’s investigation showed the real dimension of malnutrition of children in Guatemala and exposed the government’s inaccurate reports on the matter

5) Data journalists need to gather together more

There is a great sense of community in the tech world and it’s no different with the data journalism world. Both reporters interested in getting new skills and programmers willing to help newsrooms with their expertise can do more when they network.

Having the opportunity to share ideas and to understand each other’s’ capabilities is necessary to strengthen the community. Data journalists in Brazil are certainly looking forward to the next CodaBR, further developing the community and its potential.

Despite restrictive laws, Latin America has the world’s largest unsafe abortion rate

Latin America and the Caribbean have some of the most restrictive laws against abortion in the world, but the region holds the world’s largest rate of unsafe abortions.

According to estimates from the World Health Organization, last published in 2012, 31 in every 1,000 women aged between 15-44 have had an unsafe abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean. The large number of procedures, often undertaken with no assistance of trained professionals and without post-abortion care, is responsible for 13% of all maternal deaths in the region.

When looking at South America alone, 36 in every 1,000 women aged between 15-44 have had an unsafe procedure. The number is more than double the global rate of 14 cases for every 1,000 women.

Unsafe abortion rate and abortion rights

Despite the figures, the majority of countries in the region will only allow abortion in the most extreme circumstances, such as if a woman has been raped or to save a mother’s life. Such restrictive abortion laws are in place in both Brazil and Argentina.

Out of the 34 countries in the region, only Cuba, Mexico, Guyana and Uruguay allow abortion under any circumstance.

Restrictive laws and higher cases of unsafe abortions are strongly linked, according to a study published by WHO and the Guttmacher, a U.S-based institute specialized in sexual and reproductive health and rights worldwide.

South America's unsafe abortion rate

Africa, abortion and maternal deaths

Africa has the world’s largest percentage of maternal deaths due to unsafe abortion and is one of the regions where laws are the most restrictive.

Three out of five of the continent’s countries only allow a woman to terminate a pregnancy in strict circumstances. Nations such as Congo, Mali and Somalia only allow it to save a woman’s life.

In Eastern Africa, home of countries such as Kenya and Burundi, 18% of all maternal deaths were caused by the unsafe termination of pregnancy, the world’s largest rate.

“Legal restrictions do not stop abortion; mainly, they drive it underground. Too many women are maimed or killed each year because they lack access to legal, safe abortion services,” said Susan Cohen, vice president for public policy at US-based Guttmacher Institute.

“Unrestrictive abortion laws do not predict a high incidence of abortion, and by the same token, highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with low abortion incidence,” noted Gilda Sedgh, a research scientist responsible for WHO’s study on worldwide abortion trends.

Sedgh added: “In Africa, where abortion is highly restricted by law in nearly all countries, there are 650 deaths for every 100,000 procedures, compared with fewer than 10 per 100,000 procedures in developed regions.”  

Liberal laws are not associated with an increase in abortions as highly restrictive measures are not linked with a reduction in procedures. Between 1995 and 2008, abortion rate dropped most where laws are liberal, while it decreased least where abortion is mostly illegal.

Click on the map below for an interactive version:

Abortion rights around the world

In Europe, where the greater majority of countries have liberal laws for women seeking to end a pregnancy, the abortion rate per 1,000 women dropped by 44%. Africa saw the lowest drop of all regions, with a 12% fall.     

Abortion rate percentual change

Cohen, from the Guttmacher Institute, notes: “The evidence makes clear that if a woman is determined to avoid a birth, she will resort to an abortion if that is her only option, regardless of the law. All too often this means putting her own life at risk.

“Until unsafe abortion is embraced as a public health issue needing urgent attention, women, their families and communities will continue to suffer the consequences.”

#CarnavalSemAssédio: How Women in Brazil Are Fighting Harassment

A group of men gathers around a girl, one grabs her arm and try stealing a kiss. She refuses it and the group shouts: “slut, slut, slut“.  

The scene, in the historic town of São Luiz do Paraitinga, 115 miles from São Paulo, should be labelled as harassment, but it is common during Carnival in almost every part  of Brazil.

In an attempt to stop aggressive behaviour towards women, three Paraitinga residents bought and distributed whistles to females, who should blow it in case they felt intimidated by men. 

The initiative “Apito Contra o Assédio” (“Whistle Against Harassment”) is one of a few recent examples of how women are fighting against normalized violence in Brazil.

“I believe information is important”, said Lia Marques, one of the founders of the campaign, in an interview with BBC Brasil. “Harassment is a culture, they [men] believe it is normal, they are used to it. But actions such as this one will help people to understand how this [behaviour] is disrespectful.”

This Wednesday a group of women in Rio de Janeiro took the streets with the paradeMulheres rodadas” (Women who have been around). The title mocks a slang expression used by Brazilian men to humiliate women about their sexual history. 

The parade is supporting the campaign Carnaval sem Assédio (Carnival Without Harassment), launched by website Catraca Livre.

Bringing light to the issue is necessary

A survey by Instituto Data Popular, a think-tank based in São Paulo, shows that almost half of Brazilian men believe that carnival parades are not for “decent women”.

Sixty-one per cent of the men surveyed also said single women taking part in carnival couldn’t complain of being flirted with.

Debates around violence against women gained a boost last October, when thousands of Brazilian women shared their stories of harassment under the hashtag #firstharassment (#meuprimeiroassédio).

The campaign was launched by São Paulo-based journalist Juliana de Faria after a 12-year-old contestant of MasterChef Junior was the target of sexualised online abuse during her appearance in the TV show.

In the chart below from Google Trends it is possible to see the spike in searches for both the terms “harassment” (assédio) and “violence against women” (violência contra a mulher) in mid-October, period when the the #firstharassment hashtag was launched.

Captura de tela 2016-02-10 13.00.21

Such initiatives illustrate how women in Brazil are fighting against a topic deeply buried in Brazilian society.

With mobilization on social media and honest testimonials, women are bringing to light daily cases of abuse suffered by females across the country.

Carnival is just another stage to gather attention to a topic that can no longer stay in the shadow.  

London Launches First Wide-Campaign to Fight HIV Amidst Rise in Infections

The U.K. has now the largest HIV population ever in UK’s history and new infections are again rising. A group in particular has been challenging prevention programs: diagnosis amongst gay men aged 15-24 almost doubled over the last decade.

“There is now a danger that has become a threat to us all. It is a deadly disease and there is no known cure.” These were the first lines of the public information commercial “Don’t die of ignorance” launched in 1987 by Thatcher’s government to inform Britons about the risks of the HIV. Almost 30 years after the initiative, London’s first wide campaign tries to address a new HIV rise in the UK.

In May a £1,3 million media campaign was launched by London HIV Prevention Programme to increase testing and condom use in the capital.

The initiative, called Do It London, includes advertising in 200 phone boxes across the capital and the distribution of 1.5 million condoms and lubricant sachets to a minimum of 80 gay men at specific venues across London and at events, such as the Pride London parade.

DoItLondonPhonebox“London boroughs are determined to reduce the prevalence of HIV and the launch of the ‘Do It London’ campaign marks an important step in raising awareness of testing across the capital,” said Teresa O’Neill, London Councils’ Executive member for health, in a press statement.

Around 107,000 people live now with the infection in the UK, the largest HIV population ever in UK’s history, and more than a third of people living with the disease are Londoners.

New infections are also higher in the capital compared to other regions in the country. According to Public Health England (PHE), 33 per cent of the 6,000 new HIV cases diagnosed in the UK in 2013 were in London.

In the map below it is possible to see the HIV prevalence for each borough in the capital. The darker the area, the higher is the prevalence of positive diagnosis. Click in the image for accessing an interactive version of the map:

HIV in London_Map

Challenge in reaching young gay men

Amongst those new infected, gay and bissexual men are at greater risk of contracting new infections. According to PHE, this group was responsible for 62 per cent of new HIV cases in 2013.

But is the rise in infections amongst young gay men that has been challenging prevention programs.

New infections among those aged 15-24 have almost doubled over the last decade, from 8.7 per cent to 16 per cent of new cases identified in the UK.

In the graphic bellow it is possible to see the evolution of new infections involving this group:

YoungGayMen_NewProviding information for this group has been a challenge and social media has been a crucial platform for getting across prevention messages.

“In reaching young men who have sex with men, it is important that we adapt and change our approach to ensure our message stays relevant,” says Justin Harbottle, programme officer at Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), which manages the HIV Prevention Program in the UK.

“We know increasingly that social media is particularly important for young men who have sex with men especially, with a very high proportion using sites like Facebook, and with apps like Grindr and Tinder becoming the most important places for guys to meet other men.”

Organizations have also been experimenting with dating apps such as Grindr and Tinder, which are widely used by gay men for meeting new partners.

“All of our campaigns have been promoted on smartphone apps and websites like Grindr, with a single Grindr push message generating over 1,000 postal tests. We know for over a third of people who ordered a kit, this was their first HIV test, and for many, was a first easier step before going to a GUM clinic,” says Harbottle.

Sex education in schools

Another crucial tool for HIV prevention among young gay men is more information, especially at schools. A recent survey by National Aids Trust revealed that over a quarter of gay men aged 15-24 did not know how HIV was passed on.

A research by Ofsted conducted in 2013 identified that sex and relationships education required improvement in over a third of schools, adding that lack of proper sex education leave “some children and young people unprepared for the physical and emotional changes they will experience during puberty, and later when they grow up and form adult relationships.”

For THT, there is a clear correlation between HIV rise among young gay men and lack of appropriate information at schools.

“The increase in HIV infections reinforces the need for statutory sex and relationships education that is inclusive of different sexualities and genders. It can fully equip all young people with the skills they need, not only to prevent pregnancies, but also to protect themselves from STIs and realise enjoyable and healthy relationships.

“Until we have this in place, we will always be playing catch up with young gay men in terms of sexual health education,” highlights Harbottle.

London’s campaign adds to national initiatives for fighting the rise in HIV in the UK such as It Starts with Me and the National HIV Testing Week, which promotes testing and condom use at a national-level.

PHP estimates that almost a quarter of HIV positive in the UK don’t know they are infected. Increased testing is seen as key for fighting the spread of the virus as people who are not tested may be infected and can pass on the virus without knowing it. Later diagnosis can also increase the chances of death by Aids.

The Brazilian political battle on social media

Almost thirty years after the democratic transition, Brazil is experiencing a new form of political debate.

Social networks have become the arena where Brazilians discuss politics, where they protest and express their demands.

For many, Twitter and Facebook are now virtual public spaces where political debate is constant.

Recent protests that have taken millions of Brazilians to the streets had a strong interface with social networks. As Brazilians are massively active in social media – the country is the second-largest base of users for Facebook and for Twitter – protests’ organizers have been using those networks to disseminate information and invite protesters to join their movement.

Such protests encapsulates the deep discontentment amongst Brazilians with politicians malpractice, corruption and poor public services.

“Digital social networks offer favorable conditions for the social organization for a political end. The search for new spaces for discussion and political mobilization demonstrates the importance of digital social networking at events like the Arab Spring and the protests of June 2013 in Brazil,” says Heitor Botan, specialized in digital social networks and communicational crisis management.

In June 2013, when the first wave of massive protests in Brazil in almost 20 years took the streets, collective groups such as Mídia Ninja produced multimedia content and used social media to disseminate those materials.

But in 2014, the year of presidential election, oppositionist groups started using the same strategy to get their message to a large group of Brazilians.

Recent marches in the country against Dilma Rousseff and her party (PT, Worker’s Party), as those seen in March and April 2015, were mainly organized through social media.

The group Vem Pra Rua (Come to the Streets) has set a Facebook page and even used WhatsApp to viralize messages and convocations to the marches.

The Movimento Brasil Livre (Brazil Free Movement), that demands an impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, creates memes and posts daily on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Hashtags such as #ForaPT (Get out PT) and #ForaDilma (Get out Dilma) have been used daily by members of those groups and by anonymous users, who feed a large network of oppositionists to the government and of discontent Brazilians.

Here is a look at the hashtag #ForaPT on Twitter. The bigger the dot, the more influential a user is on the hashtag. The colours represent clusters of communities.


Some visible profiles in this network are profiles such as of the singer @lobaoeletrico, famous for his harsh words against PT; the Christian minister @AlexLimaReal; the user @Ivani64, who says in her profile she wants to see “the hammer and the sickle at the garbage of History”; and the annonymous @Br_DeTodos200Mi, who identifies herself as “a Catholic, fan of Francis Pope” and says she “hates bad politics, including PT”.

The government’s tactics

The government is not watching passively. During the protests in 13th April 2015, the hashtag #AceitaDilmaVez (Accept Dilma once for all) was trending topic in Brazil, fed by supporters of Dilma.

Here is a look at the hashtag. The bigger the dot, the more influential is the user posting. By the colours here it is possible to see that one cluster dominates the posts while smaller ones gravitate around the dense number of tweets in the centre:


Visible in the network are the activist @Mirtes_Costa, who has on her profile and header on Twitter pictures written “I love Dilma” and “I trust Dilma”; @AdrianyCristine, a lawyer with more than 100,3K tweets; @Sorayabborges, with 101K tweets; @Frulanis, who defines herself as a socialist and says she has voted for Dilma; and @CosmeHenriqueRJ, who has part of the Brazilian national anthem written in his bio.

When looking at the volume of posts over the past month under the two hashtags, plus the #FicaDilma (Stay Dilma), it is possible to see that the opposition has manage to create a much larger volume of posts. Here is an analysis using Topsy:

TopsySocialAnalysisUsing social networks for publicity is not new for Dilma Rousseff and her party. During the elections, she contracted a young advertiser, creator of an alter-ego and comic character based on the president. “I am Queen of the Nation, Dive of the People and Sovereign of the Americas” says the fictional character page on Facebook.

The Dilma Bolada profile (Angry Dilma) had more than 1.6 million followers on Facebook and 300,000 followers on Twitter at the time Rousseff contracted its creator, Jeferson Monteiro.

Social mobilization on the cyberspace has led the Rousseff to create the, a virtual platform for civil participation through social networks that brings together citizens, organizations from the civil society and public managers.

“The goal is to discuss a political agenda with stakeholders and define the most appropriate themes and methodologies for dialogue with civil society,” said the government about the project.

How good is it for democracy? 

The intense interactions on social networks can turn aggressive quite abruptly. Profiles on Twitter such as Morte ao PT (Death to PT – @morre_comunista) express such aggressivity.

For analysts, the battle on social media can do little to improve the political debate if it turn aggressive and if it doesn’t open a proper space for discussion of different ideas.

“I believe social media has made us move from more balanced discussions to a more simplified version of discussions,” says Eduardo Zanelato, who researched innovation in media at City University London.

“On the one hand more people might feel more empowered to engage in political discussions, but on the other hand we still lack places where we can oppose ideas and concepts without turning it into fights.”

Botan believes the political debate has been too polarized sometimes.

“In the Brazilian political context, with its recent democratization, I see the appropriation of digital social networks as a spreading field of views without necessarily building an object with political meaning. I have the feeling that, for many people, more important than to gather around for common goals is to demonstrate ‘what side you take’ in a discussion.

“However, the country’s problems are not solved either side, but by the conjunction of all the variables represented by the political parties.”

Despite such polarization and the deep discontent feeling among Brazilians toward politics, social media can be an opportunity for politicians to engage with its electorate and clean up their image, says Zanelato.

“The threat, though, is to use it just as an old PR tool. Doing so might only reveal how old politicians operating models are. Maybe social media can be seen by them as an inspiration tool to help to establish a better dialogue with society, which in turn will require profound changes in behaviours.”

The ungovernable coalition of Dilma Rousseff

Brazil’s political system is an odd one: presidents in Brazil will always need to form coalitions to govern, even when their party has the majority of the National Congress.

In a country with 32 parties – 28 of them with seats in Congress – that is usually a tough job. And the list is likely to grow: at the moment the Superior Electoral Court is analysing requests from 21 new parties.

The political fragmentation can be seen in the number of parties at the National Congress. This is how the Chamber of Deputies is divided in Brazil:


The situation isn’t different at the Federal Senate. This is how the it is divided:

PartiesAtSenate The Brazilian system is known as a coalitional presidentialism, a term coined by Sergio Abranches in 1988. In 2015, Abranches’ definition seems as accurate as ever.

Here are the parties under the incumbent president’s coalition. Click in the picture for an interactive version of the graphic bellow:


A rebel coalition

Dilma Rousseff’s support base total 70 per cent of the seats in the Senate and 63 per cent of all seats in the Chamber of Deputies, Brazilian lower chamber.

Still, her majority in Congress has not been preventing her from being defeated, bill after bill that her government has sent to parliament.

Her most recent defeat was this Wednesday (6), when the Speaker of the Lower Chamber, Eduardo Cunha (PMDB – Brazilian Democratic Movement Party), who is part of the largest party under Rousseff’s coalition, asked the house to approve a new law changing the maximum age for retirement of the judges at the Federal Supreme Court.

The new bill impacts the number of judges Rousseff could nominate to the Federal Supreme Court until the end of her mandate.

Before the change, the president could nominate five new judges, but now will only be able to do so if a judge steps down.

Rousseff is dealing with dissonant voices even inside her own Worker’s Party (PT). The president needs the Congress to approve a new fiscal package to stimulate the economy, but PT, a left-wing party, fears that the package, which brings austerity measures, will bring negative impact to the party.

This week, Brazil’s former president, Fernando Henrique Cardo (PSDB), from the opposition party, declared that Brazil needs a political reform.

“The Brazilian political system is bankrupted. You cannot govern with 30, 40 parties, 40 ministries. It is unfeasible. It is necessary to use this political crisis to improve the electoral system.”

An earlier version of this post stated that the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies had 22 different parties. The number has been corrected to the right one: 28 parties and the missing ones were included.