How is the Brazilian Uprising Using Twitter?

By Andrés Monroy-Hernández and Emma Spiro

More than a million Brazilians have joined protests in over 100 cities throughout Brazil in the past few weeks. Since their early beginning as a “Revolta do Busão” (Bus rebellion) to reduce bus fares, the protests now include a much larger set of issues faced by Brazilian society. Protesters are angry about corruption and inequality. They’re also frustrated about the cost of hosting the upcoming World Cup and Olympic Games in light of economic disparity and lack of high quality basic services. Yesterday, as Brazil defeated Spain to win the Confederations Cup final, police clashed with protesters near Maracana stadium for the second time in two weeks.

English translation of “vem pra rua” video, via Global Voices.

People turned to social media to share what they saw on the streets and invite others to join in the protests. For example, some of our most active Brazilian users of have been posting daily collages with images, links, and descriptions of the protests. According to a well-known polling company, a surprising 72% of Brazilians online supported the demonstrations, and 10% claimed to have joined the protests on the streets. For a while, leftist President Rouseff maintained a high approval rate of 55%, down from 63% the year before and still one of the highest for any leader in the world. By June 29th, however, only only 30% of Brazilians considered her administration “great” or “good.”

One of the collages on narrating the Brazilian protests


Although the Brazilian movement seemed to appear out of the blue the second week of June, the news about the bus fare increase first appeared in the media back in January. Furthermore, the organization behind the first protests, Movimento Passe Livre (Free Pass Movement), started 8 years ago and had organized an initial demonstration with students on May 28th in preparation for a bigger one on June 6th that attracted a few thousand people. At that point, the protest’s presence on social media seemed to have been constrained to MPL’s blog and the Facebook event for the demonstrations. This changed after the demonstrations were faced with police repression and several videos of people being injured by police were spread on social media. The movement started to gain a lot of attention on Twitter and Facebook and quickly spread to more Brazilian cities. See the following timeline for a longer list of events related to the protests.


Measuring Twitter Activity in the Brazilian Protests
In order to better understand the development of the protests in social media, Twitter in particular, we collected the full set of 1,579,824 tweets posted between June 1st and June 22nd containing the following hashtags: #VemPraRua (Come to the streets), #MudaBrasil (Change Brazil), #ChangeBrazil, #ChangeBrasil, #passelivre (Free Pass), #protestosrj (Protests Rio de Janeiro), #ogiganteacordou (the giant awoke), #copapraquem (Cup for Whom), #PimientaVsVinagre (Pepper vs Vinager), #sp17j (Sao Paulo June 17), , #consolação, and #acordabrasil (Wake Up Brazil).

Tweets per day

Above we show the total number of tweets posted each day. We continue to analyze the data, hoping to expand beyond those hashtags, but here are three things we have found so far:

1. Protests’ tweets peaked on June 17th

The peak of 96,531 tweets/hour happened specifically around 8PM local time on June 17th, 2013. This was the day protesters swarmed the Brazilian Congress. One example of a highly retweeted message this day was one from @AnonymousBrasil reporting on the protesters’ occupation of congress:

Tweets per hour – June 15th to 22nd

In the figure above, we show the hourly rate of tweets during the period of interest. Time of day seasonality is clearly visible as well as the dramatic spike in conversation on the night of June 17th. We also look at what is being talked about on Twitter. Below are some of the most commonly used words.

Most common words in the tweets of June 17th

2. International nature of protests.

Half of the tweets came from users whose time zone is set to “Brasilia” while the rest came from a wide range of other locations. The top time zones outside Brasilia were: Santiago, Greenland, Mid-Atlantic, Hawaii, Quito, Atlantic Time (Canada), Eastern Time (US & Canada), London, Pacific Time (US & Canada), Central Time (US & Canada), Istanbul and Buenos Aires.

The relatively high proportion of users from Istanbul was particularly interesting given the similar protests going on in Turkey. The actual number of tweets from Istanbul was very small (5,582 tweets posted by 3,517 different accounts), but conversation rates follow a pattern of delay compared to the bulk of the tweets, suggesting that the tweets coming from Istanbul were posted after hearing the news of what was going on in Brasil (the tweets from Istanbul peaked at 434 tweets/hour on June 18th at 2:00 PM UTC) as seen in the figure below.

Tweets per hour from users whose time zone is “Istanbul” – June 15th to 22nd

The sign says “Turkey is here”, by Juliana Spinola via Demotix

3. Interactions network returns to its beginning.

Perhaps the most fascinating finding is that the structure of the interaction network among the most active users–defined by the @mentions and retweets among the top 1% of users (those who posted at least 20 tweets in total)–exhibits cyclic behavior over the week. The interaction network begins very sparse on June 15th, grows to be more dense on June 17th, and maintains this increased density for a few days before returning to a density similar to its starting point on June 15th. The following plot shows how the volume of interactions among those in the 99% quantile grows and then shrinks.

Shapes of interaction networks over the course of 8 days (June 15th to 22nd)

Moreover, by comparing the structure of these daily interaction networks, we find that the pattern of relationships also exhibits cyclic behavior. In the second plot we show each daily snapshot of the interaction network as a point in space. The distance between points (i.e. daily interaction networks) represents the structural similarity between those networks – pairs closer in space are more similar. The plot demonstrates how the interaction network among these individuals begins in a particular configuration on June 15th/16th before changing drastically on June 17th and 18th (individuals on these days are interacting with many new contacts, with whom they did not previously communicate). By the end of the week, the network returns to a structural configuration similar to the way it began on June 15th.

Network structural dynamics diagram. Each circle represents a daily snapshot of the interaction network. The distance between points (two daily networks) represents their similarity – pairs closer in space are more similar.

Future work

This initial analysis represents an quantitative analysis of the movement’s communication on Twitter using a specific set of hashtags. More work needs to be done to not only expand to the list of hashtags beyond those we used but also to look into other communication channels such as Facebook and face to face interactions.

Future questions to investigate could focus on understanding the roles of each of those channels. Beyond that, the roles and motivations of different actors including unaffiliated individuals, students, and existing political organizations such as MPL, traditional political parties, and collectives like Anonymous.

Thanks to J. Nathan Matias for his valuable feedback during the writing this post, and Andrew Osborne for the help with some of the visuals.

2 thoughts on “How is the Brazilian Uprising Using Twitter?

  1. Hi Andrés,

    Very interesting analysis. I’m currently in Brazil doing fieldwork for my dissertation research, and I couldn’t have been here in a better time. I’m doing ethnography in the favelas (slums) of Vitória and I’m trying to identify the nuances of digital technology use by the marginalized (socially) and digital inequalities. The protests first happened in Porto Alegre, then São Paulo and finally the whole country. In Vitória, as in the rest of the country, had its first protest organized almost exclusively through events and groups on Facebook and had Twitter helping to spread the word. The first protest in Vitória happened on June 17th and the people from the favelas didn’t have a clue what was happening, thus, they were almost absent among the protesters – I went to the protest just to see if the marginalized from other areas was present, but it didn’t happen either. Because of the massive amount of people marching on the streets (mostly middle class people) it called the attention of the various means of communication (tv, radio, newspapers, internet) that also reported that the new protest would happen on June 20th. In the following days, almost everyone knew about the protest of June 20th, and a great amount of people from the favela actually went to the protest.

    I believe these protests are fascinating in terms of their purposes but it also makes for a clear case of the (digital and social) inequalities in Brazil. They were excluded from the first protest because of their seldom use of Facebook and Twitter (digital inequality) and also because their social network doesn’t “connect” very well with the SN of the richer classes (social inequality). It would be very interesting to map out the tweets by the poor and rich protesters and see if their @mentions and followers overlap… and how late the marginalized start sharing about the protests.

    Another interesting thing that I’ve noticed is that the hashtags #VemPraRua #OGiganteAcordou #VerasQueUmFilhoTeuNaoFogeALuta (this is a sentence from our national anthem – you will see that your son doesn’t run away from the fight) actually “left” the online social networking sites to be on the protesters signs.Which was a bit confusing for the marginalized (on the protests of June 20th), they thought it was a “cute” way to write their claims.

    Anyways, I just wanted to add some findings I’ve noticed so far. If you need any help or assistance with future research on this topic, please let me know! Again, congratulations on your post!

    1. Thanks a lot for the feedback, David. I’d love to learn more about your perspective on the movement. I’m planning on doing a comparative analysis between this movement and a very similar middle class social movement that happened last year in Mexico. I remember the class dynamics played out in very similar ways. Have you been formally interviewing people about the movement?

      You mentioned the first protests started in Porto Alegre, however, what I had read was that it started in Sao Paulo through the Movimento Passe Livre as early as May (see the timeline linked in the post). Do you have any references to the Porto Alegre protests? I’d like to have the timeline as accurate as possible.

      Thanks a lot. I’ll email you so you have my info.

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