The Police Twitterverse and public security coverage in Brazil

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  • December 1, 2010

By Maira Magro

Coverage of violence and crime by the Brazilian media is being enriched by the so-called “Police Twitterverse.” Going around department hierarchies, officers are using Twitter to narrate their day-to-day work, denounce corruption and abuse, and share their thoughts on issues ranging from police institutions to media coverage. Their posts are closely followed by reporters and academics, creating an active, critical space on social networks for discussing public security that is spilling over into how police issues are covered.

The blog Abordagem Policial (A Police Approach) has published lists of the profiles on Twitter and participants in Brazil’s "Police Blogopshere."

In Rio de Janeiro, one of the most popular profiles is @bocadesabao (soapy mouth) – an account used by officers to anonymously denounce corruption and abuse in the Military Police. Other users are Capitan Luiz Alexandre (@CapLAlexandre) and Lieutenant Júlia Liers (@julialiers) – the latter of whom ended up in the tabloids after a Twitter post saying she had arrested actor Dado Dolabella for possession of “weed that looks like marijuana.”

During the recent wave of violence in the Brazilian “favela” shantytowns, the account
@Bope_RJ (BOPE being the acronym for the Military Police’s Special Operations Battalion) gained thousands of followers, especially after a controversial post about the media. During a raid of the Vila Cruzeiro favela, the account criticized the live coverage by Globo and Record TV stations. While, a BOPE spokesman said the account was not official, a source in the Rio police department told Journalism in the Americas that the account holder worked in BOPE and was voicing the views of several of his colleagues, who thought the broadcasters were giving gang members too much information about the operation. A few days later the account was deleted.

As police are part of a rigid hierarchy, it is not uncommon for them to be reprimanded or censored for their actions on social networks, as shown in the UNESCO study “The Police Blogosphere in Brazil: from Shooting to Twitter” (See a summary of the report in English here and the full PDF report in Portuguese here.)

Captain Alexandre received 20 days in prison for commenting on Twitter about his promotion, O Estado de S. Paulo reports. Another officer was transferred after he posted his support on Twitter for holding elections for the Police Chief of Rio’s Civil Police.

Public safety blogging was the precursor to the police presence on Twitter, with commentary from journalists, academics, and the officers themselves. As the UNESCO study points out, the discussion on blogs has enriched the debate on violence and the work of the press in Brazil, saying that since 1990, “the expansion of these pages tends to accelerate the professionalization of reporters and editors.”

Perhaps one of the most important effects is that the use of social media in the public safety sphere shines light on the problems within the police departments themselves, forcing the media to go beyond police public relations departments and professional crime reporters. This week, after covering the apparent victory of police against gang members in the favela raids, TV Globo reported denunciations by favela residents of abuses of power by officers (see the video here).

For more information related to social media and freedom of expression, see this Knight Center Twitter feed.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.