This week a blogger conference–dubbed the 1º Encontro Mundial de Blogueiros (or First World Bloggers’ Conference)–is taking place in Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil. Sponsored by Brazilian companies Petrobras and Sanepar, as well as the Itaipu hydroelectric dam, the conference attendees are from all over the world, with significant representation from around Latin America. There are also several Global Voices authors and alumni in attendance, including Pakistani blogger Farhan Janjua, Brazilian blogger Diego Casaes, Saudi blogger Ahmed Al Omran, and myself.
Due to a canceled flight, I unfortunately missed most of Day One, but was able to attend (and speak on) the day's final panel, with Egyptian blogger Ahmed Bahgat, Brazilian journalist Pepe Escobar, Farhan Janjua, Ahmed Al Omran, and others. Each blogger took a different approach, touching on issues from their country (or country of focus), with particularly interesting presentations from Bahgat and Janjua.
Bahgat, who tweets as @bahgatia, discussed–among other things–the issue of military trials in Egypt, emphasizing the ways in which the military crackdown on free expression has affected bloggers, mentioning in particular Maikel Nabil's forced move to a mental institution.
On Day One, bloggers also noted that, despite a high volume of tweets, the conference hashtag (#blogmundofoz) had not made it to Brazil's trending topics. Many accused Twitter of censorship (note: Twitter has explained that trending topics are not based purely on volume, see this post for a detailed explanation) and, in protest, have begun adding the hashtag #ocupatt (Occupy the Trending Topics) to their tweets:
There was also a discussion on Libya, with questions from the audience. Pepe Escobar and another speaker discussed the Brazilian anti-intervention movement (there will be a protest in Rio de Janeiro against NATO on November 3).
Day Two: Blogging in Latin America
The second day of the conference started with a robust discussion on blogging and social networking in Latin America, a region that tends to be underrepresented in global conferences of this type, which often focus heavily on blogging in authoritarian or non-democratic countries.
Iroel Sánchez, a Cuban blogger who writes the blog La Pupila Insomne, discussed why he started blogging: “Tired of reading the same lies about my country in the media, I decided to open my own blog … The repercussion of certain coverage of my country reflected the vision of the United States but ignored some of the most important causes. The media relies on stereotypes about the island but never discuss the causes that produce these situations.”
Talking about the value of blogging, panelist Ecuadorian journalist Osvaldo Léon of Agência Latinoamericana de Informação, said: “Building mechanisms and alternatives with anti-hegemonic character. Today there is a reactivation of the discourse on technological speech in Northern Africa, according to which we want to say that changes in history have happened because of technology and not social change: such as ‘Facebook revolution,’ ‘Twitter revolution’ et cetera.”
Martin Becerra, an Argentinian blogger and professor, discussed some of the perils of the Argentinian blogosphere:
“I think that the blogs here represent an emergent space and try to give an alternative to the single-direction of information, but have not totally explored this … but I want to talk about some of the risks of these networks: I believe that the social networks make up a unique representation of those that exist in society. Another risk is that blogs and social networks are often grouped by those who think the same…people come together in society with the same or similar opinions about social things. This dogma leaves out anything that doesn't converge into basic agreements that these groups have.”
Nonetheless, he said, “the depths of the blogosphere are greater than those of traditional media.”
Jesse Freeston, a Canadian journalist who has lived and worked in Honduras, started by talking about the Occupy movement that started in New York, saying “There are thousands and thousands of people in North America who are opening their eyes and seeing discomfort for the first time.”
“Occupy is an important word,” says Freeston. “Cyber-activism, on the other hand, is a word that doesn't make sense. It's like cyber-eating; you can't do it virtually. Same with ‘occupy.'”
“‘Homos Interneticas’ is a term recently coined by some anthropologists to describe people who no longer no how to do anything outside of the Internet. The world is waiting for us to do something,” Freeston argues, “These machines work like cocaine. I don't know if you've ever met someone who is high on drugs, but they think they're the most important in the room. The sad reality is that we don't tweet or Facebook for just one day, nobody will miss us,” he says, to a hearty round of applause. Freeston says he limits his use of the “drug” (the Internet) to an hour per day.
Discussing Honduras, he notes that the occupy movement really starts in the “south,” from prior movements. He then showed a video he produced for The Real News Network on the 2009 Honduran coup d'état. Honduras has led the world in attacks on journalists since the coup, with fifteen journalists murdered in eighteen months.
Day Two: The Brazilian Blogging Experience
Brazilian activist cartoonist Carlos Latuff, whose work has been regularly featured on Global Voices, particularly throughout the ‘Arab Spring,’ starts the Brazilian panel thanking his country for “bringing Latin America here,” stating that Brazil tends to turn its back on the rest of Latin America.
“In the Arab Spring,” says Latuff, “I've used Twitter heavily to communicate with people in Egypt.”
Latuff then addresses the topic of ‘Twitter revolutions’, stating: “Twitter, just like Facebook, is an instrument or a tool, just like the Internet is just a tool, just like a Molotov cocktail or a mobile phone is a tool – and people use the Internet to accomplish their goals.”
He explains his own history as an activist cartoonist, stating that his 1999 trip to Palestine solidified his work in the solidarity movement. He then addresses why he started drawing cartoons about other Arab countries earlier this year:
“People in Palestine contacted me before the protests in Egypt and requested I draw cartoons for them. I was afraid that the Egyptian authorities were going to kill them all. But on the 25th, protests began, and the cartoons I had drawn were often printed and shared during protests. It gave me the confidence that I was producing artwork that has relevance for people. This is what leaves me the happiest as an artist.”
“People say I'm an activist and not a cartoonist, as if those things couldn't come together,” says Latuff. “I don't care about being promoted as an artist – even if people removed my name, I'd still be happy. I'm not interested in money; anyone can reproduce my cartoons.”
“I have 50,000 Twitter followers, and many of them are from Egypt. No one knows me in Brazil; it's amazing how many Egyptian press interviews I've done,” says the cartoonist. (Note: I transcribed much of Latuff's talk here).
Following Latuff's talk, there was a robust discussion of the role of the blogosphere in Brazil, with panelists showing frustration at the mainstream media, accusing it of plagiarizing the blogosphere on numerous occasions. To that end, Conceição Oliveira calls for “the democracy of comunication in Brazil,” a call met with heavy applause.
“We have Facebook, blogs, Twitter…we just need to maximize their potential and do something amazing like they did in the Arab Spring,” says Leandro Fortes, a journalist with CartaCapital and blogger with the national commission BlogProg.
In the closing panel, speakers discussed media regulation, a hot topic at the moment in Brazil. The panel featured Paulo Bernardo, the Brazilian Communications Minister; Jesse Chacón, the former Venezuelan Communications Minister; Damian Loreti, a member of the commission that drafted Argentina's media law; and Blanca Josales, Peru's Communications Minister.
Brazil's draft media law has sparked a polarized debate, with some–including major companies and activists–saying that the bill threatens free expression, and others (including some publications) defending the bill.
The conference, while interesting, could have benefited from greater interactions between participants. To that end, organizers should consider making the second meeting more participatory, offering breakout sessions or unconferences. Furthermore, the gender diversity on the panels was disappointing; many contained no women, while the total count of female speakers (myself included) was about three. Nevertheless, the organizers succeeded in bringing together a really interesting group of individuals from all over Latin America and the world, and should be congratulated.
Next year's conference, for which Itaipu has already promised funding, is already being discussed, and I have agreed to take part in the international planning committee to ensure greater global participation.