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An Illustrated Census of Brazilian «Dirty Blogs»

Above, the blogosphere shreds the mainstream media.

The Meme Pollution Meme

An interesting sidelight to Brazil’s ongoing «bicho» scandal — Al Capone-level numbers racketeers corrupting politicians, police and journalists — has been the accusations of undue influence by a semi-organized faction of self-described «progressive» digital samizdat artists, known to their vociferous opponents as the Dirty Bloggers, or «blogs sujos» — a description some have ironically appropriated as a badge of honor.

For their part, the dirty bloggers have attempted to call and sustain attention to the journalistic aspect of the racketeering case before the congressional commission: on federal wiretaps, the criminal conspiracy is heard successfully arranging negative press coverage of its enemies with journalists and other go-betweens. Investigative reports are run by major publications without any independent fact-checking at all. None.

On the wiretaps, the conspirators boast of their influence over national newsweeklies and regional dailies. The publications are being forced to swallow their pride and admit that their world-class «investigative reporting» consisted of plagiarizing reports from dubious sources without ever thinking to fact-check them or offer the right of reply to the parties involved.

These sorts of doubts have been raised about Veja and Época, among others, and Globo and Abril are said to be lobbying hard — the latter threatening to mount fresh scandals against lawmakers who insist on subpoenaing executives and editors.

There is no doubt that Veja is both capable and willing to run and vouch for fabricated scandals. The most famous case: the purported roster of bribe-stuffed Swiss bank accounts in the name of senior government officials, including the president and the head of the federal police. Completely bogus.

Veja vouched for it, and has accused the dirty bloggers for reminding readers of this undisputed fact.

Which brings us to the technical question of the day, therefore: Are the dirty bloggers as cohesive,  influential and intimidating as they are described as being by Veja? Are the Lilliputians capable of bringing down the gargantuan Gullivers of the major media, as they claim? Are they chapa branca — «blank slate», — as their opponents claim?

Explorations in Pajek

As an assiduous reader of many of the more prominent dirty bloggers, I have reached the point where I think I can honestly say I recognize one when I see one. Organized meet-ups, modestly advertised attended, have begun to appear over the last three years or so as well.

An effective first step in exploring the coherence of these «small pieces, loosely joined», then, is to select two key elements in the group — in this case, Carta Capital magazine and the news agency of columnist and blogger Luis Nassif, the most vocal critics and the most frequent targets of mudslinging — and then analyze the maximum flow between them.

Using yEd, we can select k-neighbors, distance=1, of both nodes to create a diagram showing potential avenues of influence as overlapping elements in a Venn diagram.

A maximum flow analysis, cross-referenced with my own non-automated list-making, confirms a high degree of density connecting these publications, explained by systematic cross-linking. The birds who flock together are visibly of a political feather..

Even so, the majority of the «progressives» still feel like more of an ad hoc effort than an optimized, orchestrated and automated program of link and meme exchanges, although they are beginning, three years from the initial proposal, to cohere, cooperate and mature.

The Vast and Shadowy Anti-Neoliberal Conspiracy

I insist on this point, again, because in recent years, the dirty bloggers have been built up, hysterically, as agents of a massive government plot to curb freedom of the press.

 Veja magazine, for example — targeted for criticism of its stunning ethical shortcomings in various and sundry scandals past and present — recently made much of a Twitter account that was robotically retwitting an anti-Veja hashtag that managed a few thousand repercussions during a period of a handful of hours.

It is always impressive to watch this sort of argument revolve from «Twitter trends mean little to nothing in the scheme of things» to «Twitter megatrends are the real-life horsemen of the Apocalypse». And back again.

The Vejans are past masters of this sort of what we rhetoricians call the «Manichaean allegory», framing their critics as shadowy monsters underwritten by a fascist state while portraying themselves as Ayn Randy heroes of individual freedom, rather than as what they are: loyal employees of an oligopoly with the power and will to remove rival publications from the newsstands — Abril owns 100% of print distribution in Sambodia state.

Twitter users are more often than not a valid statistical sample of anything or anyone except as a venue for click farms. They are neither angels or demons, just interminable sources of blá blá blá. Rumors of the impending technocalypse have been vastly exaggerated.

In a similar manner, during the last national election, the Social Democrats and Democrats made much more extensive use of SEO-driven marketing than the incumbent PT — I have some hard data on this, down to the agencies hired — and yet made a major stink over the PT’s hiring of a Campus Party guru, with Move On and Bloggers for Dean experience, for its own collaborative Web presence.

The Dirty Dozen or So: A Roster

But back to our dirty dozens of progressive bloggers.

Viewed from various angles in Pajek, we see shared activity with accuracy in media blogs — Desculpe Nossa Folha — and columnists such as Nassif and Walter Maierovitch, the latter a retired federal judge and mafia expert for a variety of publications, including Carta Capital and Terra Magazine.

The labor union federation CUT sponsors a forum on democratization of media.

A sociocentric view of the alt.media NGO Centro de Estudos  Barão de Itararé provides a partial cross-section and roster of the dirty blog universe.

Tulio Vianna is another legal expert and media commentator.

Blogs and sites linked to the Brazilian Communist Party — PCdoB — and the World Social Forum also flock together.

Above, a diagram of maximum flow between two previously known members of the dirty blogger set — Nassif and Tijolaço, the blog of the recently named Minister of Labor, Brizola Neto — provides an overview, above, of brokerage roles and opportunities in the social universe explored with our Web crawler.

Brizola, son of a legendary labor organizer, legislator and governor of Rio de Janeiro, has suspended his blogging while he serves in the cabinet. Also present is the cheerfully muckraking Conversa Afiada, a Huffington clone maintained by Rede Record news anchor Paulo Henrique Amorim.

Also closely linked are the Agência Dinheiro Vivo  and CartaCapital — reflecting Luis Nassif’s position as a staff editorialist at the magazine and elsewhere.

Carta occupies an interesting position as a point of contact between dirty samizdat and the traditional glossy newsweekly — a genre pioneered in Brazil by its editor emeritus Mino Carta. Carta, in fact, founded Veja back in the 1970s and built up its journalistic reputation, and nopw, from that perspective, lobs ethical hand grenades against the rotten system that has taken root at the magazine.

Dirty Bloggers Go For Brokerage

It seems clear that the «dirty bloggers» do practice systematic, ongoing link exchanges that define them as a coherent genre. But what about this bloc, taken as a whole? Does this bloc interact with others?

What, for example, is the nature of ties to the Global Voices Online project at Harvard?

According to data collected by my Web spider recently — «Robot, create me a roster of dirty bloggers» — there are some interesting ties between the Net libertarians of Harvard and Stanford and what seems to be a sympathetic faction at the Brazilian culture and Scitech ministries.

Take the case of Mega Não, a WordPress blog offering coverage of this week’s Internet @ LIberty 2012 conference at the Newseum in D.C., sponored by Google …

Mega Nao and its companion blog Mega Sim — «objective: to advocate for State action in the development of digital culture in Brazil» –seems to occupy a brokerage or interpreter position connecting Brazilian dirty bloggers with the Knight-, Soros-, MacArthu-r and GigaOm-funded net libertarians of the blogging industrial complex at Harvard.

[ I have lost track of this thread … skipping ahead ]

Brazil Bloggers, Then & Now

In the past — back in 2006 or so — the Harvard blogger covering Brazil for GVO was simultaneously employed as a bureaucrat for the Culture ministry — a relationship not disclosed to readers, which I always found ethically iffy, and as far as I could tell was more the rule than the exception as far as the proper disclosures went.

Brazil’s man in Harvard Yard at that time also listed himself as the worldwide Web master for the Santo Daime ayahuasca religion and the editor of something called the Imaginary News & Nonsense Agency, as I recall.

The nonsense agency would run interviews of its creator by various pseudonyms. It was an utter wankfest.

I would guess that the man’s overindulgence in yage explained this modus operandi.

Things seem to have changed, however. The current roster is led — in terms of numbers of posts — by João Miguel D. de A. Lima, a sociology grad student from Fortaleza and the project’s translation editor.

João’s institutional ties are purely academic, according to his complete and non-imaginary CV.

It would be interesting to take a sample of GVO’s current linking to see how, or wheter, they flow from any identifiable sectors of the blogging and alt.media universe down South America way as we have explored them here. I believe they do. But let us leave that for another time.

Qui Parle?

In conclusion, back to the question of the day: Who are our Brazilian dirty bloggers and what do they have in common?

Technically speaking, after isolating a group of densely linked sites covering a selection of distinct and overlapping topics, we asked our social network analysis package — Pajek — to explore the egocentric network of newly identified, closely connected neighbors, such as Mega Não.

We decided to classify Mega Não as an intermediary after analyzing it down to an intimate handful of degrees of separation, starting with its explicitly stated support for the principles of the Open Net Initiative.

In a symmetrized version of the network, maximum flow between Mega Não and pt.globalvoicesonline.org is 33, count is 84, as shown.

[ … Summary: GVO links more to «dirty bloggers» than it did under its previous editor … ]

Mega Nâo plays some sort of brokerage role between international Net libertarians and Brazilian dirty, Anonymous- and Occupy-inspired  bloggers, it seems. But which?

In sum, there really does exist a smart mob of «dirty» or «progressive» bloggers with some international Net libertarian leanings … the more prominent of which, such as Luis Nassif, have been targeted for SLAPP suits by mainstream media oligarchies such as Editora Abril, based — with a straight face, just imagine it — on outdated honor laws.