5th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

Social Media and Social Activism: The cases of Brazil, Iran and Mexico

On September 15th, the Brazil Institute, in collaboration with the Mexico Institute, the Middle East Program, and the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, hosted a discussion on “Social Media and Social Activism: The cases of Brazil, Iran and Mexico.” The panel, monitored by Daniel Calingaert, composed of Paulo Sotero, Mariam Memarsadeghi, Michael Samway, and Luis Daniel Palacios, who each commented on the role of social media in activism and how it can produce results in specific countries or generally create spaces for anonymous voices.

Mariam Memarsadeghi commented on the use of social media in the context of Iran and the Arab Spring, stating that “the use of the internet is situated in the context of all freedoms.” She discussed how social media has been used by Iranian women, especially, to blur the societal boundaries between inside and outside the home.

Luis Daniel Palacios then explained the role of social media in Mexico’s current war against narcotrafficking, where he described how journalists are at risk because of the strong gang threat. This spurred independent, anonymous blogging that began with the original Blog del Narco and continues to be replicated by its successors and imitators. Palacios described how these blogs became both a strategy to evade government censorship and also a “megaphone” for the cartels, as they would report about crimes including shoot outs, executions, and drug busts.

Michael Samway approached the panel from the business side of social media, discussing his previous involvement at Yahoo! Inc. and the tension between censorship and the evasion of censorship that simultaneously gives social media its popularity and power. He also provided seven ways technology companies can work toward building decisions that promote human rights: executive commitment, high-level principles, team diversity, an inventory and clearing house, human rights impact assessments, stakeholder engagement, and accountability.

Paulo Sotero spoke about the role of social media in the recent activism sweeping the country of Brazil in the context of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the upcoming 2014 presidential elections. Sotero commented that the protests – online and in the streets – provided an opportunity for Brazilians to publicly demand that “we want more, we want better, and we want faster.” The role of social media has also played a large part in the campaigns of the presidential candidates and will continue to impact the elections in October. 


Photo courtesy of Flickr user Ninja Midia.