In June Brazil’s elites received a rude introduction to the power of social media. Protests, many convened via Facebook, saw millions take to the streets to air disaffection with politicians. Those same politicians now want to harness social networks for their election campaigns. Just before Dilma Rousseff was elected president in 2010, 6m Brazilians used Facebook at least once a month. As they gear up for a presidential poll in October, 83m do. Only the United States and India have bigger Facebook populations. One Brazilian in ten tweets; one in five uses Whatsapp—part messaging service, part social network. Cyberspace is seen as a crucial battleground for the election, even before campaigning officially starts on July 6th. In September, shortly after the protests petered out, Ms Rousseff reactivated her Twitter account, dormant since the 2010 election. She has also joined Instagram and Vine, two image-sharing sites, and revamped her Facebook profile. Last month Ms Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT) held its first workshop for activists on how best to use social networks. It plans 13 more in the coming months.
The opposition is pinning even more hope on social media, in large part because the president is likely to dominate the traditional sort. During the campaign free television time is divvied up using a complex formula which takes into account the size of electoral alliances—and tends to favour the incumbent. Despite threats by the PT’s junior partner to dump Ms Rousseff—and take its airtime with it—most pundits predict the coalition will pull through. That would leave the president with around half of the 25-minute television slots; the other candidates would split the rest.
Small wonder, then, that Ms Rousseff’s likeliest rivals have been busy making Facebook friends. Aécio Neves, a senator from Minas Gerais state and leader of the centre-right Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB), and Eduardo Campos, governor of Pernambuco and head of the centrist Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), have so far notched up many more “likes” than the president (see chart). The most popular of all is Marina Silva, a former environment minister and Mr Campos’s probable running mate. All are active on other social networks, too.