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Tag: data analysis

Facebook Feminism in Brazil

For my degree in Social Psychology, back in 2017 I wrote a dissertation about intersectionality and Facebook Feminism in Brazil. I had two main reasons for that: the perception that intersectionality was a growing concern for feminists in Brazil and the fact that this specific platform had become so popular for fast feminist activism that “Facebook Feminism” had become an easy derogatory expression.

After reading a couple of qualitative research focused on one specific Facebook page or movement and limited by narrow time frames, I thought it would be good to get a broader view of the field, so I decided to do a wider-reaching data collection and exploratory analysis. More than just satisfying my own curiosity, I wanted to contribute to further research (although I am still to work on writing and publishing a paper about it). Today I want to share a fragment of what I found out.


Simply put, the intersectional approach posits that thinking about oppression requires that we consider all the relevant multiple forms oppressions at play and how they relate for creating specific outcomes. So, for feminist analysis, that involves going beyond just gender, as not all women navigate the world in exactly the same conditions.  Markers of oppression vary widely across cultures, but overall there is an agreement that the minimum 3 categories of difference that should be taken into consideration are gender, race and class. That being said, it is not a simple task to try to attribute the presence of those markers to Facebook posts or, really, any text.

What I did and what I found

I collected posts from the six most liked Facebook pages in Brazilian Portuguese that I could identify using the platform’s research tool (which is in itself very limiting). I chose only the pages that did not explicitly identify whit any specific strand of Feminism. The most popular one at that time (July 2017) had 1.242.852 likes; the least, 727.575. The gathered corpus had a total of 26.890 posts published from mid-2013 up to that moment.

A bar chart representing the number of posts by type. Different colors represent the different pages analyzed.

The first thing I could immediately conclude was that any serious future analysis should focus on images, not text, as “photo” is the predominant type of post. That is reinforced by the fact that only 35% of the collected posts had text with more than 140 characters. 

A word cloud of most common pairings for the word “Feminism”.

A word cloud for the most common pairings for the words “woman” and “women”.

In order to try to observe what kinds of Feminism were enunciated in the posts, I used n-grams to see which words most commonly accompanied “Feminism”. “Intersectional” showed up only 24 times, while “black Feminism” occurred 50 times.

That focus on racial identity was also predominant when repeating the same process using the words “woman/women” to observe which categories of women were most frequently enunciated in the posts. “Black women” had 579 mentions, while “white” had 266 and other WoC had 46.

Whether or not this really says anything about intersectionality in Facebook Feminism, it is great to see some emphasis on blackness in these spaces. White middle-class women are traditionally over-represented in Feminism; in a country where most of the population identifies as black, it only makes sense that any new approaches to mainstream feminist conversation elevate black women’s voices and concerns.

Intersectionality does not have to be enunciated to exist. My simple exploratory methods did not allow for more nuanced inquiries, but more complex approaches could provide a deeper understanding of this form of digital activism.

Hung jaak – paying a prime for your belief

One thing often commented about Hong Kong is how the modern and the traditional coexist harmoniously. Walking around there, between steel and glass skyscrapers you will inevitably come across at least one colorful and fragrant temple, and it will not seem out of place. That same grace manifests itself in many ways, and for this post I want to focus on the mix of traditional beliefs with digital technologies and the reproduction of inequalities.

Hong Kong-made tech are usually created for financial purposes, which is unsurprising given the region’s location and History. Fintech can seem very acultural in a sense that, being fundamental for globalized markets, it tends to be somewhat homogeneous around the world. But a much more local character shows up in real estate uses of technology.

A bit of background info here: Hong Kong is one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world. While that is often attributed to a chronic shortage of land (a very disputed and evergreen subject), you cannot ignore the fact that this is also one of the most unequal societies in the world. While a mansion at The Peak has been sold for £338 million earlier this year, thousands of people remain homeless, spend their nights in 24-hours McDonald’s restaurants or live in awful conditions in cage/coffin apartments (although Beijing representatives may mock that). In such a competitive market, even the most precarious spaces come with high price tags, and people are always looking for opportunities for bargaining.

Another important contextual information is that the people of Hong Kong are very superstitious. Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianism and other religions and philosophies all melt together and inform spiritual and mundane practices in Hong Kong. How seriously? Feng Shui shapes the very skyline of the city.

Superstitious people looking for a place to live in HK, then, have to take auspiciousness into consideration. At the top of the list of concerns is avoiding hung jaak – Cantonese for ghost apartment: homes inside which people have died, especially in cases of untimely deaths, carry a lot of bad energy. Before the internet, potential residents would have to trust on a real estate agent’s knowledge and honesty, because there is no official listing of that kind of data. But clever technologists saw a business opportunity in manually gathering and providing such information.

For at least six years, Squarefoot, an international “property portal”, has kept a page dedicated to the listing of indoors deaths since 1977, with varying levels of detail. A most widely publicised tool came from another company, inspired by augmented reality game Pokémon GO: made the headlines in 2016 by timely creating and marketing a new feature in its mobile app, which allowed users to check for haunted properties by aiming the camera at a building. If there was any such occurrences there, a ghost should appear on the screen. Even before that tool was developed, the site of the company already had a layer on its map for checking that.

But the main reason why those services are good business is not that they help believers to avoid the haunted properties, but the exact opposite. Because those beliefs are so ingrained in Hong Kong (and other Chinese) society, prices of those homes can plunge around 10 to 50%, thus attracting non-believers.

In practice, that means any superstitious person would have to consider how much they can pay to live in accordance with their values. While neither company knows who actually gets those places, they seem to believe their services cater to millennials and expats, as those are the segments of population least prone to holding traditional Chinese beliefs. Because of that, this form of house hunting ends up reproducing inequalities present in the society, notedly the privilege of expats: usually already richer then locals (and immigrants), they get to save handsomely with hung jaak.

e-cidadania, is it worth it?

Just a few days after the election of Jair Bolsonaro a couple of weeks ago, a friend sent me a link suggesting that we voted, in a poll, in favor of maintaining the current gun control legislation in Brazil. That had been a very common and divisive subject during the election cycle and will likely remain so, at least until the new leader passes the desired changes.

Some examples of Bolsonaro showing his appreciation for guns.

The link took me to a page called e-cidadania, a portal launched in 2012 by the Brazilian federal Senate to allow and incentivise citizens to take part in legislative activities, budget planning, accountability and representation. The platform consists of three tools:

Legislative ideas: citizens can suggest and support changes in legislation and the creation of laws. If a suggestion reaches 20 thousand supporters in at most 4 months, it is then discussed by the Senate.

Interactive event: users can watch and comment on events open to the public.

Public consultation: all law projects and other propositions being discussed by the Senate are described to users, who can then vote for or against them.

The main concern I have about this platform is online safety. There have been many instances of data breach worldwide, and Brazil is believed to be an easy target. Here we have a national participatory technology that requests its users to create an account with full name, password, state of residence and e-mail: all sensitive information that could be used for gaining access to other services. Looking closely at its terms of use and privacy policy, things don’t get more reassuring: the only information about personal data storage is that it is held in the Senate’s database, with no mention of expiration period. It is stated that the Senate retains the copyrights and prerogative to divulge users’ names and other input information whenever they consider it necessary for the portal’s mission.

Such is the case when a user’s legislative idea gets more than 20,000 favorable votes and is sent forward to be discussed by senators. Not only the author’s full name is divulged to the representatives and anyone who accesses the site, but also those of all people that supported it, along with their e-mails.

That may seem like fair use, but right now in Brazil, any discussion topics are clearly divided ideologically. That political divide has reached e-Cidadania: the two most voted proposition of 2018 so far suggests “criminalising MST and other social movements that occupy private lands” and “turning into a crime the teaching of gender ideology in Brazilian schools“. Those propositions (which were both supported and will be discussed by the Senate) are a reaction to what is perceived to be the greatest harms caused by leftist politics. By looking at the list of supporters names, you can identify people who are at least in part aligned with the incoming government. I wonder where are held the names of the people who voted against those values, and who can/will be able to access them: maybe a government that has promised to end any forms of activism and to eliminate opposition?

Criminalising “gender ideology” at schools: yes

Criminalising land justice activism: yes

Reviewing gun legislation: no

How do senators handle those results? A research by Raianne Liberal Coutinho in 2017 using data from the previous year shows that although representatives say they check the votings and take the results into consideration, they vote against popular opinion in the most relevant cases.

If e-cidadania is becoming more partisan by reflecting the current political climate, it does not seem to be overly protective of user’s personal information, doesn’t seem to influence political outcomes and could be a tool for an authoritarian government, I have to ask: is it worth participating?

My vote is no.

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