PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil – The growth of online extremism, which includes racial, ethnic and religious discrimination, worries human rights authorities and institutions in Brazil.
During the first quarter of 2011, 1,586 complaints were filed against actions condoning violent hate crimes nationwide, according to the NGO SaferNet.
“Nowadays, when we look at blogs, forums and social networks, we increasingly find manifestations of hate against minorities such as homosexuals, and people of African and Jewish descent,” says Thiago Tavares Nunes de Oliveira, SaferNet’s president.
SaferNet’s Complaint Center recently reported a rise in discriminatory material against those from Northeastern Brazil since Dilma Rousseff was elected president in November 2010.
“It’s a widespread movement,” she says. “At least 180,000 people in Brazil access these sites and download material frequently.”
“Some voters who supported losing candidates attributed Rousseff’s victory to votes cast in northeastern states, which caused a rise in manifestations of hatred against this portion of the population,” Oliveira adds.
SaferNet has signed agreements with the Federal Police and 15 regional public prosecutors who receive the complaints and reports based on information compiled by the NGO.
As a result of the tracking carried out in 2010 by the National Complaint Center, the Federal Police launched 70 investigations into accusations of pedophilia and 20 into alleged hate crimes.
Brazilian officials already have solved numerous crimes that originated on the Internet, says Marcelo Fernando Borsio, a Federal Police officer and interim head of the Hate Crimes and Child Pornography Taskforce (GECOP).
Borsio said it’s hard to catch those who commit crimes online because officials must obtain two court orders in order to pull data from a suspect’s computer.
“European countries, the United States and Canada allow a user’s registration to be released by companies without a court order, which facilitates the investigation,” Borsio says.
Brazilian officials are paying especially close attention to the increased activity online of neo-Nazi groups.
SaferNet estimates there are about 300 white supremacist cells in Brazil, with 80% concentrated in the states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Paraná and São Paulo.
And of the 300 groups, officials said at least six are highly sophisticated, because they have the ability to mask their computers’ Internet Protocol (IP) addresses and use other encryption techniques so they can’t be tracked by authorities.
Adriana Dias, who earned her master’s degree in anthropology and is pursuing a doctorate in social anthropology, has been studying the manner in which neo-Nazis use the Internet to disseminate their propaganda and rally supporters worldwide.
In Brazil, neo-Nazi groups have created forums, blogs and social networks, Dias said.
These pages feature visceral content and hate-laden speeches, which encourage committing acts of violence against people of African and Jewish descent, homosexuals and people from the Brazilian Northeast.
The authorities also are increasingly concerned about the number of children and young adults who access this content.
Dias says neo-Nazis use their anti-establishment rhetoric and presence on the Internet to recruit children and young people to join their hate group.
The Internet can empower extremist groups because it enables them to disseminate their hate-laden materials throughout the world with a click of a button, Dias says.
It’s also difficult for law enforcement agencies to apprehend those responsible, since the crime is being committed in the virtual world.
“This sense of impunity allows them to feel comfortable,” Dias says. “And their comfort is our greatest discomfort.”
Cynthia Maria Pinto da Luz, coordinator of Brazil’s National Human Rights Movement (MNDH), says the organization pays attention to extremism on the Internet.
But Luz sees the web as an ally, not a villain.
“There are many cases in which we were able to carry out national mobilizations and find solutions more rapidly, due to the political pressure exerted on the web,” she says. “In a country with the geographical expanse of Brazil, the Internet has been an important tool for dialogue and connection among social movements and human rights groups.”
Luz also points out the advancements Brazil has made in human rights in the past 30 years.
“Nowadays, people have a more critical stance when it comes to social issues,” she says.
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