Twitter Tweets Up Brazil's Digital Divide

04/26/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011


Twitter, the trendy message service that can eat up your privacy faster than a school of piranhas, is flaunting Brazil's tough Internet laws in an effort to mine digital gold.

The powerful Globo media group gave Twitter a seven page cover story in its flagship magazine Epoca last week. You would have thought Elvis was in the house with Epoca writers predicting Twitter will transform the way Brazil thinks, buys and accepts the loss of privacy.

Smiling faces of affluent Millenials who can afford the $400 mobile handsets favored by Twitter power users dominated the spread. The Epoca feature on president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has made the Internet less exclusive and more affordable for Brazil's underclass, rated four pages.

Thanks to Lula Internet use has grown 1,000 percent in the past eight years ( Edelman Public Relations says more families in Brazil are buying PCs than TVs. But with annual average income at $5,960 (World Bank 2007), half of the nation's 67.5 million Internet users still can't afford to buy a computer, getting access at schools, libraries and inexpensive cyber cafes.

Twitter was developed by and for a US culture where the average household income is $50,233, ten times larger than Brazil's. Because of this digital divide, only ten percent of Brazilian users can afford the Twitter-friendly broadband connection that facilitates the growth of e-commerce and the capture of private consumer data that drives it.

The Twitter line that it brings families and people closer together sounds like boiler plate Web 2.0. But it morphs quickly into 1984 2.0 with a format that can provide marketers information on the behavior and sentiment of a user's entire social graph, a profile with far more depth, value and predictives than that of an individual who surfs at an internet service provider or product website.

Twitter hype, evidenced by David Weinberger's recent post here, follows a big push for Twitter adoption by journalists and bloggers in the United Kingdom and comes at a time when global business is desperately seeking marketing data on the emerging millennial generation some think will help spur economic growth. A recent Nielsen Netview survey published at the influential blog Social Media Today ( found that high school and college students, who Twitter needs to monetize its business, are slow to adopt the service. Nearly half of Twitter users fall into the 35-49 year old market.

At a recent Internet conference in San Francisco, World Wide Web co-founder Tim Berners-Lee gave a speech saying that to survive, the Web needs "more raw data" and he invited the crowd to scream along with him the words "more raw data." Capturing more raw data means job creation, mostly outside the US, for geeks who write the data and sentiment mining software designed to capture personal consumer information that marketers devour.

If Berners-Lee is that concerned about the future of the Web perhaps he might support the proposition floated by some liberal NGOs creating a data bank at which users in low income nations can sell their personal consumer data to Twitter, Facebook and Google. Proponents say this can help families in low income nations bootstrap and cover the cost of purchasing computers that can help generate sustainable economic growth.

Twitter is a great tool if you work in entertainment, public relations or real estate, where making public the details of your private life can help generate personal wealth. But in powerful but lower income economies like Brazil, Russia, India and China, Twitter driven consumer culture widens the gap between haves and have not's creating unwanted social issues that can trigger political instability.

Throughout Roman Catholic Latin America, Twitterati lifestyle is at cross purposes with Vatican doctrines on capitalism, morality and social justice.

For Brazil's Globo, no stranger to Machiavellian politics, backing Twitter may be a stalking horse to make its own NET digital Internet service into a bully pulpit in next year's presidential vote. A tactic employed successfully by Italy's reigning media mogul, Silvio Berlusconi, in his successful campaign to become prime minister. Front runner in Brazil's election, neoconservative Sao Paulo governor Jose Serra, has already used Globo's digital soapbox to complain that Lula's Workers' Party has an unfair media advantage.

Federal and state governments in Brazil have a beef with Twitter. Operating as a US company with a globalist agenda, Twitter parachuted into Brazil providing users with a platform that enables them to work around the nation's internet laws designed to stamp out child pornography and keep political action within the framework of the constitution. Brazil's media elite have taken exception, saying the nation's Internet laws constitute censorship. But they base their notion of Internet democracy on US law, not Brazil's.

Growing concern that a "dual loyalty" media, holding passports of one country but advocating the values of another, can erode national identity and the foundations of social organization is what has driven Brazil, France and other nations following their model to implement laws holding Internet services and their users accountable for their actions.

You won't find a "fake Steve Jobs" blog in Brazil because its illegal to create fake online identities. But you can fake it 'till you make it on Twitter and other US based services that were vehicles for promoting the conditions that caused the current economic crisis. Retweet that.