"Dilmaboy" and Twitter: Brazil election goes online

Thu Aug 19, 2010 2:03pm EDT
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By Stuart Grudgings

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Complete with its own version of "Obama Girl," Brazil's election has moved firmly into the Internet age this year as candidates battle for votes and clicks among a surging number of computer users.

The two main contenders to succeed President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva have become avid tweeters, invested in websites that can gather donations, and on Wednesday took part in the country's first online presidential debate.

The debate among the ruling coalition's Dilma Rousseff, her chief opponent Jose Serra and trailing Green Party candidate Marina Silva provided the sharpest exchanges of the campaign so far and was streamed live on networking sites Twitter and Facebook.

While TV remains the most powerful medium in the vast country of 190 million people, the Internet is rapidly growing in importance as millions of consumers get a foothold in the middle class every year and buy their first computer.

The two main parties are trying to import aspects of the strategy that helped Barack Obama win the U.S. presidency in 2008 by leap-frogging the mainstream media, organizing supporters, and gathering record online donations.

The number of Internet users in Latin America's largest economy hit 72 million in 2008, according to the World Bank, doubling from four years earlier. Once they get online, Brazilians tend to stay there, racking up more time surfing per month than any other nationality, one survey showed.

"This is the first stage of a new thing that's happening," said Joe Rospars, a founder of the Blue State Digital firm that devised Obama's game-changing Internet strategy and which has been hired to do the same job for Rousseff.

"As more critical mass of voters and people get online, the more they are going to do and demand from campaigns and the more campaigns will be looking to do with them."   Continued...

<p>Brazil's presidential candidates, Marina Silva of the Green Party (L), Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party (C) and Jose Serra of PSDB, are seen on laptops arranged to show the first on-line debate in Brazil, broadcasted from Sao Paulo, in Brasilia August 18, 2010. Note: This is a posed photograph. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes</p>