Now that the president-elect is preparing to take charge, the role that these social networks will have in the future government is becoming more relevant.
The importance of social networking to the the election of Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro has been extensively discussed in recent months. Now, as the president-elect of Brazil prepares to take office, the role social networks will have in the future government is becoming relevant.
During the transition phase, Bolsonaro publicly tweeted the names of various ministers, presidents of states and other members of the future government, as well as the occurrence of meetings or encounters with national and international leaders. In doing this, the president-elect sought more direct contact with the citizens; though only a small part of the population has access to Twitter, most of the population has access to it through news sites, newspapers or television programs.
It is expected that this use of social networks will not cool down when the new government begins. If the Brazilian continues on the path traced by the president of the United States, accessing his personal profile will be more important in following the acts of government than looking at the institutional profile of the president of the republic.*
In this case, can the president block people that criticize him on social media? Even before assuming the job, Bolsonaro blocked various people from accessing his profile, many of them journalists. Is he free to do this, since it is already in theory a personal profile on social media?
The answer is negative. The exact same situation occurred in the United States. Trump decided to block people that criticized him. However, the court limited the power of the president over his social media, as it is considered a public forum of debate. The court ruled that to block citizens from accessing this forum violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects the right to freedom of expression, among other rights.
The same thing should happen in Brazil. If the president decides to use social networks to publicize government acts, he cannot impede citizens from accessing his profile, because this violates diverse constitutional norms; for example, the principal of publicity, cited in article 37 of the Brazilian Constitution and the right of access to information, set out in article number 5, subsection XIV.
When a person blocks a journalist from doing his or her job, the violation is even more serious because article 220 of the nation’s constitution guarantees freedom of the manifestation of thought, creation, expression and information. Impeding access to the president’s profile limits the freedom of journalists to exercise their profession; the effect impacts not just the individual journaIist, but society as a whole. As few people have access to Twitter, a large part of the population depends on the work of intermediaries that report government activity. Limiting journalists’ access to the president’s profile therefore curtails the right of access to information for a large part of the Brazilian population.
Feelings [on this subject] are still very heated even two months after the election.
The issue of the president blocking people on Twitter tends to involve, once again, the same sides that opposed him during the election. However, I invite those that defend the Twitter block to imagine the following situation: In a few years, a member of the current opposition is elected and decides to block all that oppose him. Will those that currently defend blocking tweets continue supporting these blocks if they themselves are affected? We must put an end to this type of initiative now so that monsters are not created to haunt their creators in the future. As the Spanish proverb says, “cría cuervos que te sacarán los ojos.”**
*Translator’s note: The institutional profile of the president of the republic also has a Twitter page.
**Translator’s note: This expression translates as "raise crows that will take out your eyes.” Sometimes the proverb is stated as “cría cuervos y te sacarán los ojos,” “raise crows and they will take out your eyes.”