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The rise of the Internet and social media

In 2018, the Internet was reaching 67 per cent of the country’s households, 64 per cent of them having broadband connections, according to data from the TIC Domictlios 2017 survey from the Center of Studies on Information and Communication Technologies (CETIC.br), published at the end of 2018 (Telesintese, 2019). The study points out that inequalities by socio-economic class and by urban and rural areas persist: Internet access is present in 30 per cent of economically poor households (proportion was 23 per cent in 2016) and 34 per cent of rural households (in 2016, it was 26 per cent). Among middle and upper middle classes, this proportion is, respectively, 99 per cent and 93 per cent. In addition, 19 per cent of connected households do not have a computer, which represents 13.4 million households.

The TIC Dotnictlios 2017 survey indicates that half of the connected population accesses the Internet exclusively by mobile phone, which represents 58.7 million Brazilians. For the first time in the history of this annual survey, the study showed that the proportion of users accessing the network only by mobile phone (49 per cent) surpassed those using both mobile phone and computer (47 per cent). The profile of exclusive use of a mobile phone is more common among low-income citizens (80 per cent) and those who live in rural areas (72 per cent). According to the study, the price of the connection was the main reason mentioned for the absence of the Internet in homes: 27 per cent of respondents said that the service was too expensive.This perception reinforces the need for investment in infrastructure and public policies that allow everyone to have access to the Internet in their homes. In 2010, the government created the National Broadband Programme with hopes of promoting access. However, by the end of 2014, the programme had not reached its goals. The issue of Internet quality is seen as an industry problem but there are prospects of improvement after Anatel had approved a regulation in 2011 requiring operators to ensure good broadband speed.

The growth of Internet access in Brazil has been accompanied by the popular use of social media as a source of information. According to the Digital Media Report 2018, published by the Reuters Institute, about 50 million Brazilians use Instagram and 130 million use Facebook. The country is one of the world’s most enthusiastic social media users: two-thirds (66 per cent) of respondents to their survey use social media as a source of news. About 120 million Brazilians use the WhatsApp application (Reuters Institute, 2018). The popularity of the app and its use for political purposes, including during the last presidential election campaign, opened up an important discussion about the dissemination of fake news as an instrument of electoral propaganda against political opponents. Right-wing groups have been particularly good at using hostile and aggressive messages, memes, personal narratives and direct channels of mobilization against progressive politicians and activists (Chagas, Modesto, and Magalhaes, 2019). In 2014, Brazil passed the Marco Civil da Internet or Brazilian Civil Rights Framework for the Internet (the ‘Marco Civil’), which establishes ‘principles, guarantees, rights and obligations for the use of the Internet in Brazil’ and ‘provides guidelines’ for all levels of Brazilian government to follow when regulating this use (Souza,Viola and Lemos,2017). Expanding the fibre network to the interior regions of the country and installing submarine cables is part of government plan to improve digital communication. There has been a notable growth in cable and fibre optic use in recent years, though the speeds of connections remain poor and the government has implemented a number of Internet expansion and improvement programmes.

Conclusion

As can be seen in this chapter, on the one hand, the decade since 2010 demonstrates significant changes in the processes of production, distribution and access to communication in Brazil, brought about by technological changes, including the growth of the Internet, and economic and social changes, influenced by the political turbulence that the country has experienced with even greater intensity after 2015. On the other hand, during this period, some important initiatives were established but are running down and are at risk of being closed, such as the initiative of a Public Service of Media, which is likely to be discontinued and its organizational structure used for governmental purposes.

In summarizing the character of the current media system in Brazil, according to official data, television remains the main source of information. However, with more Brazilians using the Internet every day, the media system and access to media have changed, especially for youth and others who use the Internet on mobile phones, particularly for social media. These characteristics have altered the relationship between media and politics, creating a more complex media environment.

In addition, there are doubts about the role of the media during the far-right-wing Bolsonaro government, which has been openly supporting one of the leading television networks (Biller and Watson, 2018). Bolsonaro, for instance, promised to and did change the criteria for distributing official advertising funding, benefiting companies with editorial content more aligned with his party’s policies. This concern is especially relevant to print media because leading newspapers have been labelled as the ‘enemies of the people’ by the President and are suffering, more than other media, the effects of the political and economic crisis.

Other important point is related to the impacts of digital changes. In recent years the main question has been and will be: how will the Internet change the current Brazilian media system? In addition, the political context is also important: what will be the effects of the Bolsonaro government on the media landscape in Brazil and on Brazilian political culture? In such polarized and turbulent times, there are more questions and doubts than answers and prospects.

 
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