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Brazil: Justice aims at Twitter and hits innocent bloggers

Brazilian bloggers Raquel Camargo, Fernando Souza and Gabi Zago [all in Portuguese] had quite a surprise last Tuesday September 9, when Twitter Brasil [Pt], the blog they feed with news about the social network Twitter.com, was taken offline after a court decision.

Raquel Camargo [Pt] tells us how they were notified about it:

Hoje de manhã recebemos o seguinte email da empresa que trabalhamos para registrar o domìnio de nosso blog:

Prezado sr.,

Estamos entrando em contato para informar-lhe que o site twitterbrasil.org foi bloqueado em virtude de decisão liminar emitida pelo Tribunal Regional Eleitoral do Ceará.

Caso deseje receber cópia da decisão, favor informe um fax para envio.

Atenciosamente

Como podem ver, ao clicar no link do TBrasil, o blog está realmente fora do ar com a mensagem “Página em construção! Esse domínio foi registrado, porém ainda não está configurado…”

This morning, we received the following e-mail from the company we registered our blog domain with:
Dear Sirs,
We are contacting you to inform that the site twitterbrasil.org has been blocked due to a decision of Ceará's Regional Electoral Court.
In case you wish to receive a copy of the decision, please let us know your fax number.
Best regards,
As you can see, when you click on TBrasil's link, the blog is indeed offline, with a message that says: “Page under construction! This domain has been registered, but not yet configured…”

Apparently, there had been a misunderstanding on the part of Ceará‘s Regional Electoral Court (TRE-CE [Pt]), in the Brazilian Northeast Region. Liberdade Digital [Pt] was quick to take a screen shot of the decision page – before it was taken down from the Supreme Electoral Court's website, which now displays an error message.

One could say it all began with the electoral process Brazilian cities are currently going through to choose their mayors for the next four years. In Fortaleza, the state of Ceará's capital, the candidate Luizianne Lins is running for re-election as mayor. Despite the fact that several political parties support her candidacy, Lins is facing opposition both from citizens who regret voting for her in the previous elections and from other politicians. A few weeks ago, the opposition appeared online, through a fake profile [Pt] on the social network Twitter.com.

Fake profile

The first fake profile

Blog e-leitor [Pt] was among the first to spread the news, pointing out the fake profile's features, along with this screen shot of the page:

Na barra lateral, link para a página oficial de Luzianne e ironia com o slogan da Prefeitura (“Fortaleza ‘Bela'”) e um prognóstico (“Prefeita de Fortaleza até o dia 31 de Dezembro de 2008″).

A atitude de quem fez essa página foi típica de spammers: adicionou mais de 500 pessoas apenas na última noite. Até agora, 9h, dezessete pessoas estão “seguindo” este perfil falso.

On the sidebar, there's a link to Luizianne's official page and an ironic statement of the city hall's slogan (“Beautiful” Fortaleza) and a prognostic (“Mayor of the city of Fortaleza until December 31, 2008″).
The person who built this page shows an attitude that is typical of spammers: they have added over 500 people overnight. Up to now, 9 am, seventeen people are “following” this fake profile.

Hours later, the fake profile revealed its real intentions, no longer presenting itself as Lins’ official profile, but as a disillusioned elector, since it had received a notification from Ceará's Regional Electoral Court.

“Promoting Twitter to the masses”, says the second fake profile in a screen shot taken by Desopilando [pt] blog.

Even so, Lins’ committee requested that the page was taken completely offline. It was then that the misunderstanding happened, according to Lins’ press office in an e-mail to Techlive [pt]:

Como forma de preservar a imagem de Luizianne Lins, a Coligação “Fortaleza Cada Vez Melhor” entrou com uma ação em que solicitou a retirada do falso perfil localizado no site www.twitter.com. Em nenhum momento foi solicitada a retirada do blog Twitter Brasil.

O juiz Emanuel Leite Albuquerque acatou o pedido dos advogados da ação de retirar o falso perfil na última terça-feira, 09 de setembro. Infelizmente, por um engano da Justiça Eleitoral, foi bloqueado o blog Twitter Brasil. Uma vez detectado o erro, o blog já voltou ao ar no mesmo dia, à noite.

As a way to better protect Luizianne Lins’ image, the “Fortaleza Better and Better” coalition filed a lawsuit in which it asks for the removal of the fake profile located at the site www.twitter.com. The removal of the blog Twitter Brasil was never requested.
Judge Emanuel Leite Albuquerque agreed with the lawyers’ demand to remove the fake profile last Tuesday, September 9. Unfortunately, due to a mistake made by the Electoral Court, Twitter Brasil was blocked. Once this mistake was detected, the blog went back online on the evening of the same day.

Lady Rasta [Pt], however, dug up the full decision and found out that the mistake may have actually been made by Lins’ lawyers. She quotes the judge Emanuel Leite Albuquerque's decision in which he mentions that the coalition had said “that such website – Twitter – is a foreign entrepreneurship which has however an office in Brazil “hosted at the domain http://twitterbrasil.org/”.

Quickly, the story was all over the web and Twitter itself was bubbling. Several blogs posted about the issue, such as IceCream [Pt]:

Na minha opinião, o mínimo que o TRE deveria fazer é: Um pedido de desculpas formal pelo incidente e tratar de conhecer um pouco mais essas ferramentas e as novas tecnologias urgentemente. De que adianta nós brasileiros termos o melhor sistema de votação do mundo, se nossos Juízes eleitorais não conhecem o funcionamento das nossas redes de relacionamento digital?

In my opinion, the least TRE [Regional Electoral Court] should do is: issue a formal apology for the incident and try to learn a little bit more about those tools and new technologies immediately. Does it matter if we Brazilians have the best voting system in the world when our electoral judges don't know how our digital social networks work?

Fundamental [Pt] compared the Brazilian electoral laws concerning the Internet to the reality of elections around the world:

Enquanto muito do charme da eleição americana vem de todas as manifestações pela internet, assim como também foram movimentadas as eleições argentinas, espanholas e francesas, aqui a opção é pelas amarras. O estúpido disso, repito, é que a proibição atacará os candidatos que queiram fazer ações assumidas, positivas. Para fazer contra-campanha, hospedar blogs na Bratislavia, dissimular IPs, pra fazer diabrura, qualquer adolescente sabe. E mais: a Justiça não tem como fiscalizar. Infelizmente é este tipo de ação que eles estimulam.

While much of the charm of the American elections come from all the manifestations on the Internet, as well as the way this happened in the Argentinean, Spanish and French elections, here the option is for bindings. The stupid thing, I repeat, is that the prohibition will damage those candidates who want to take clear, positive action. Any teenager knows how to counter-campaign, to host blogs in Bratislava, to dissimulate IPs, to make pranks. And more: the judiciary system has no way of overseeing this. Unfortunately, this is the kind of action they encourage.

Blogger and journalist Leonardo Fontes [Pt] considered the consequences of the judiciary's actions to Lins’ campaign and to the Electoral Court's reputation:

Do ponto de vista jurídico, é até monótono voltar a falar sobre o assunto dado o repertório de arbitrariedades que acontecem desde o caso Cicarreli, mas do ponto de vista político, Luizianne Lins já tem o que esperar:

* conseguiu que uma das comunidades mais ativas, unidas e com poder de mobilização, caso dos usuários do Twitter, se voltassem contra ela. E pior, na internet, isso nunca fica restrito a apenas um site, é de se esperar também algo no Orkut e outras redes de relacionamento, é simplesmente impossível medir com precisão o quanto isso vai feder na web;
* o site oficial de campanha vai sofrer Google Bomb em breve, já existe mobilização em torno;
* a coordenação de campanha vai se surpreender com a quantidade de reclamações que chegarão pelo site;
* posts e mais posts Brasil afora com toda uma antipatia à sua campanha.

Resultados colaterais? O TRE-CE ficará conhecido como um dos mais ignorantes na matéria, por errar totalmente o alvo. E, é duro dizer isso, mas o criador do perfil falso, se utilizando de uma prática que ronda a criminalidade e a total falta de ética, conseguiu exatamente o que queria. Sua estratégia não poderia ter sido mais certeira. Lamento que a campanha de Luizianne tenha caído em uma armadilha tão vulgar e elementar como essa.

From the legal point of view, it's even boring to talk about this subject again, given the repertoire of authoritarianism that has been happening since the Cicarelli affair, but from the political point of view, Luizianne Lins already has a lot to look forward to:
* she managed to turn against her one of the most active, united and able to mobilize communities such as Twitter. And worse, on the Internet, it's never restricted to just one website, you can expect something also on Orkut and other social networks, it's simply impossible to measure precisely how this will stink on the web;
* the official campaign wesite will soon suffer a Google Bomb, there's already a mobilization;
* the campaign coordinators will be surprised at the amount of complaints that they will receive;
* posts and more posts throughout Brazil will display rejection to her campaign.
Side effect damage? TRE-CE will become known as one of the most ignorant on the subject, for missing the target entirely. And, it is hard to say this, but the creator of the fake profile, using a method that's almost a crime and displays a complete lack of ethics, got exactly what they wanted. Their strategy couldn't have been more precise. I'm sorry that Luizianne's campaign fell for such a vulgar and elementary trap.

Twitter Brasil‘s team had also something to say, once the blog was back online. In their opinion, this isn't over:

E agora, a história terminou? Não. Não podemos nos calar diante essa falta de maturidade e responsabilidade. Fomos atingidos por um problema que não tem a menor relação com o trabalho que desenvolvemos aqui. Nosso país vive uma situação lastimável, onde nossa justiça eleitoral não sabe nada sobre internet.

Pelo visto, o Twitterbrasil.org foi o escudo do Twitter.com, afinal, se não tivesse errado o alvo, a plataforma de postagem estaria então fora do ar? Agora, que o “escudo” foi tirado da batalha, o que vai acontecer?

Is the story now over? No. We can't be silent before this lack of maturity and responsibility. We were hit by a problem that had nothing to do with the work we develop here. Our country is going through a deplorable situation, where our electoral justice doesn't know a thing about the Internet.
As we can see, Twitterbrasil.org served as a shield to Twitter.com, after all, if they hadn't missed the target, wouldn't the platform be offline? Now, that the “shield” has been taken from the battle, what's going to happen?

Not the first blunder

If you want to know more about the country's justice's blunders when it comes to the Internet, start by reading our previous article Brazil: Inventive censorship, and the case for anonymity. There are many links to previous posts on Global Voices Online.

5 comments

  • Débora:

    Great post!!! But I just wanted to reinforce that it was a lawyer’s mistake, not a TRE one. I am one of those that have always criticized the decisions concerning cyber law, but I cannot blame TRE this time. In de decision you can see clearly that the lawyers pointed “Twitter Brasil” as the responsible Twitter’s site in Brazil. Maybe the judge could have checked it out, but it was not his fault…
    Best,
    Flavia

  • Hi, Flavia!

    The lawyers did make quite a mess! Makes one wonder just how far these guys go in order to please their clients. Thanks to your post, we could show that in our article. All fingers pointed to TRE, how did you find out about the lawyers’ mistake? Thank you for your help :)

    Best wishes,
    Débora

  • Flavia

    Hi Débora!

    Actually, I am a lawyer too and was very curious to read the decision; in fact, everybody was talking about the huge TRE mistake, but nobody had read the decision, and I am one of those persons who likes to see things by themselves, instead of trusting people. And I am also a very curious person, and wanted to read the decision in order to analyse it. And I am glad that I did it. But the history didn’t ended yet; the TRE gave to PT 24 hours to analyse the Twitter Brasil’s server petition. I believe that Tuesday will be a day of new chapters of this whole messy stuff. I will update it at my blog.
    Thanks again!!!

  • Wonderful Début, my dear Débora. The high quality and eye for the detail you showed in your translations at Global Voices em Portugues can be clearly seen in your first original article to GVO too. I’m very happy to see what a great new author GVO got now you’re here (too). Welcome aboard the GVO ship. :)

    Best Regards,
    D.D.

  • ANTONIO D AGRELLA

    REFORMA POLÍTICA

    MOVIMENTO DE COMBATE A CORRUPÇÃO
    ELEITORAL

    -PROIBIR POR COMPLETO DOAÇÕES ELEITORAIS
    DE PESSOAS JURÍDICA, COMO FÍSICA, À
    QUALQUER CARGO POLÍTICO.

    – A PROPAGANDA POLÍTICA PODERÁ SER
    EFETUADO VIA INTERNET, OU QUALQUER MEIO
    DE COMUNICAÇÃO, ISENTO DE QUALQUER
    PAGAMENTO PARA SE PROMOVER.

    -CONTINUAÇÃO DA PROPAGANDA ELEITORAL
    VIA RADIO E TELEVISÃO, GRATUITA E DEBATES,
    ONDE PODERÁ EXPOR SEUS PLANOS DE
    GOVERNO E PROJETOS NOS PODERES
    EXECUTIVO OU LEGISLATIVO.
    antoniodagrella@yahoo.com.br – SÃO PAULO

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