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Sunday, September 28 • 15:16 - 15:35
"Whither social media? Brazil’s Marco Civil da Internet and the implications for 83 million netizens"

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Dubbed the ‘Social Media Capital of the Universe’ by the Wall Street Journal (“Brazil: The Social Media Capital of the Universe”) and home to the world’s second largest population of social media users (Forbes “The Future of Social Media?”), it is perhaps unsurprising that in Brazil these pioneering communication networks are imbricated in almost every aspect of the social totality.  In politics, for example, social media is fiercely contested both by Federal politicians seeking to sway voters ahead of upcoming national elections (Economist “Winning Hearts and Likes”) and by civil society groups occupying the same networks to convene massive street protests that shocked the nation in 2013 (New York Times “Thousands Gather for Protests in Brazil’s Largest Cities”). 

Although it is almost axiomatic that law marches several steps behind the lightning surge of technology, in Brazil the legislature passed a bill in March 2014 commensurate with the high profile of these communication platforms and one that holds massive implications for its approximately 83 million social media users (Socialbakers 2013): O Marco Civil da Internet or Civil Rights Framework for the Internet.  Almost unique in the world as an effort to legislate the Internet oriented around user rights – as well as being the product of an unprecedented online public consultation - the Marco Civil demands the world’s attention as a case study in how law can constrain and enable the use of social media platforms.  By analysing the concrete provisions of the law it is the goal of this paper to both identify the implications of the Marco Civil for the services offered by social media platforms in Brazil and the practice of their millions of users, but also its potential as a template for other countries to follow.

The Marco Civil established numerous rights and principles around issues such as interoperability, the use of open standards and data privacy though it is known particularly for two key struts that are crucial determinants of the manner in which social media platforms function: net neutrality and intermediary liability (Infojustice 2014). 

The non-discrimination of data traffic is the promise of net neutrality and the Marco Civil establishes it as a general principle regulated by presidential decree with inputs from both the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee and ANATEL, the national telecommunications agency.  The fact that Brazil is surpassed only by the US as a user population for video hosting site YouTube (Wall Street Journal 2013) demonstrates the significance of net neutrality to the local ecosystem: SNS premised on video and image sharing can continue to operate and grow without the threat of ‘throttling’.

Limitations on the liability of online intermediaries may lack the cache of net neutrality as a rallying cry for social media users but its implications are no less profound.  Given the enormous upload of user content and its subsequent viral dissemination on SNS, were the platforms to be held legally responsible for all hosted material the entire premise of UGC would be undermined and the chilling effect on freedom of expression enormous.  Instead, the legal security offered by this provision will likely provide a major fillip to Brazil’s already burgeoning web start-up scene as well as preserve the vibrant expressive qualities of social media.

By focusing particularly upon the above two provisions - as well as many other less-heralded but equally progressive stipulations on issues such as data protection and freedom of expression - this paper will demonstrate that the Marco Civil contains rich potential to preserve some of the essential communicative attributes of SNS as well as to safeguard the privacy and expressive rights of users that are under threat from state and corporate entities in other Internet communities around the world.

Economist. (2014) Winning Hearts and Likes. http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21598975-social-media-will-play-big-part-years-campaign-winning-hearts-and-likes

Forbes. (2013) The Future of Social Media? http://www.forbes.com/sites/ciocentral/2013/09/12/the-future-of-social-media-forget-about-the-u-s-look-to-brazil/

Infojustice. (2014) Brazilian Chamber of Deputies Approves Marco Civil Bill http://infojustice.org/archives/32527

New York Times. (2013) Thousands Gather for Protests in Brazil’s Largest Cities. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/18/world/americas/thousands-gather-for-protests-in-brazils-largest-cities.html?_r=0

Socialbakers. (2013) “Facebook Statistics by Country”. http://www.socialbakers.com/facebookstatistics/

Wall Street Journal. (2013) Brazil: The Social Media Capital of the Universe. http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887323301104578257950857891898?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424127887323301104578257950857891898.html

avatar for Guy Hoskins

Guy Hoskins

PhD candidate, York University

Sunday September 28, 2014 15:16 - 15:35
TRS 1-147 Ted Rogers School of Management

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