Brazil…A Model to Follow?

Long before even considering applying to the MCDM, I had a discussion with two of my tech-savvy cousins who were born and raised in Bahia, Brazil. At their young age, they managed political conversations in a mature manner. It was in 2008 that they discussed how they were able to join chat room discussions about political issues that included anyone from perfect strangers, to the “diputados”, State representatives. My cousins didn’t use terms like “E-democracy” or “digital platforms”, but they did understand that they had more possibilities of interacting with their representatives than I did in the United States.

Brazil made history in 2010 by electing Dilma Rousseff, their first female president. However, in 2012, Rousseff’s administration has yet to make significant progress in terms of e-Democracy. Using the findings of Francisco Marques’s Government and E-participation Programs: A Study of the Challenges Faced by Institutional Projects, and examining how both the Brazilian Presidency and the House of Representatives’ webpages look today, we can see that there has been little, if any improvement at all since Marques’s study in 2007-2008.

During that time, he found that the Presidency’s webpage was much more limited and didn’t allow for much interaction betwwen the citizens and the President or his staff. It served more of a Public Relations role outlining important events. In contrast, the House of Representatives’ website was significantly more interactive including polls and chat rooms. In reviewing both websites in 2012, we can see that much of what Marques discovered 5 years ago, holds true today. The Presidency’s website remains scarce in terms of interactive resources. It includes platforms such as Twitter and Flickr but what about chat-rooms or other interactive platforms? Why does this branch of government continue to stray away from what could represent a solid opportunity for e-democracy. Brazilian citizens can e-mail the office but will they receive a reply? Twitter can certainly help create dialogue, but is it enough?

Marques outlines three key problems E-Democracy faces in Brazil. He begins by discussing that politicians don’t feel comfortable with incorporating citizen participation at decision-making levels, making them less willing to open up the platforms for true engagement. But if they interacte only when they are searching for votes, then how much of a democracy is it? In fact, looking a bit closer to home, the White House webpage, also lacks that interactive component.

Marques also emphasizes that certian governments claim that it’s simply too expensive to incorporate these interactive platforms. In Brazil’s example however, if the House of Representatives allocated funds for interactive platforms and encouraged its members to participate, why couldnit the President’s staff do the same? I find that this demonstrates that governments have too much control when it comes to limiting E-democracy platforms.

In Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications, Danah Boyd describes networked publics as space that is constructed by network technologies and introduces new possibilities for interaction. She goes on to discuss the four essential components that configure networked publics as. “Persistence: online expressions are automatically recorded and archived. Replicability: content made out of bits can be duplicated. Scalability: the potential visibility of content in networked publics is great. Searchability: content in networked publics can be accessed through search.” Taking some if not all of these four components we see how in Brazil’s example, the House of Representatives webpage can be taken as a good model of a political branch working solidly towards e-democracy. One can say that this branch of government created a networked public by providing chat rooms and other interactive platforms by incorporating the above-mentioned four points.

Looking back at my cousins’ comments years ago, I would have guessed that Marques’s study in 2007-2008 could be adapted to show how Brazil’s top government office had evolved in terms of E-democracy in the past five years. I’m curious to see why this hasn’t happened even though technology has certainly done it’s part.

E democracy

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