Networking Democracy: Brazilian Internet Freedom Activism and the Influence of Participatory Democracy
O'Maley, Daniel Patrick
This ethnographic study examines the pioneering tactics Brazilian Internet freedom activists have used to defend what they refer to as the Internet livre - a free and open Internet. In particular, it explores how the concept of participatory democracy "a governing philosophy that strives to broaden opportunities for citizens to make meaningful contributions in policy decisions beyond voting in elections" has uniquely informed Brazilian activist initiatives. Fighting for more participatory democracy was a hallmark of left wing social movements and labor unions working in the 1970s and 1980s to end the military dictatorship (1964-1985) as they sought to radically challenge elite control of the state by incorporating previously marginalized groups into the political system. Thus, Internet freedom activists are now applying this philosophy to the development of Internet policy and governance. Specifically, this study examines the crowdsourcing of a national Internet rights law, the Brazilian Internet Civil Rights Framework (Marco Civil da Internet), and the institutional structure of the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (Comitê Gestor da Internet no Brasil). However, while proponents of participatory democracy contend that increased citizen participation leads to more socially equitable policy, scholars have also noted how participatory initiatives that do not actually redistribute power have frequently reproduced the preexisting socioeconomic inequalities of the larger society. This research substantiates this claim and exposes the many shortcomings of participatory initiatives in light of powerful corporate interests that continue to dominate the development of Internet policy in Brazil. This study is based on more than 20 months of multi-sited ethnographic research conducted over four years in the Brazilian cities of Porto Alegre, São Paulo, and Brasilia between 2010 and 2014. The methods used were long-term participant observation, semi-structured interviews with activists and policymakers, and in-depth analysis of activist publications and official documents.