A woman uses a laptop at a café in a Rio de Janeiro bookstore. Two bloggers in Brazil say they received threats after reporting on crime and inequality. (AFP/Yasuyoshi Chiba)
A woman uses a laptop at a café in a Rio de Janeiro bookstore. Two bloggers in Brazil say they received threats after reporting on crime and inequality. (AFP/Yasuyoshi Chiba)

Brazilian bloggers encounter threats online and off

Enderson Araújo is so afraid of being killed by police that he fled his home and is reluctant to talk on the telephone for fear he is being bugged.

Araújo is the Brazilian blogger and brains behind Mídia Periférica, a blog run by young journalists in the northeastern city of Salvador that focuses on news in poor communities that are undercovered by mainstream media. He has good reason to be afraid.

After he wrote about the spate of youths killed in police shootouts last month, a police officer approached him with a chilling warning.

“Stop moving your fingers and criticizing those that really provide security otherwise you might not get any yourself,” the officer, who was in uniform but without a name tag, told him, the blogger said.

Araújo gathered his belongings and, three days later, he was in another state.

“I was writing about police raids and killings in which all the victims are young blacks,” the 23-year old told the Committee to Protect Journalists in short bursts via telephone and via text message from an undisclosed location.

Bahia state military police told CPJ they received no official complaint from the journalist and said they are investigating the killings, 13 of which took place in one shootout with law enforcement officers in Salvador on February 6.

That’s little comfort to Araújo–but at least he knows where the threats are coming from. Ana Freitas has no such advantage.

Freitas, a 26-year-old freelance journalist, has been harassed on an almost daily basis since writing about machismo and misogyny in the public spaces of the Brazilian Internet.

Freitas’s piece appeared on February 2 in the Brasil Post, Brazil’s affiliate of the Huffington Post, and even though she did not mention any specific site or forum she quickly became a target, she told CPJ by phone.

Anonymous users of one forum on the bulletin board site 4chan abused and threatened her. The incidents, which happened over the course of several days, forced her to close some of her social media accounts and change the settings on others. After she mistakenly accepted an invite to an event on Facebook, her tormentors encouraged each other to go to the event and attack her, Freitas told the CPJ.

She cancelled her plans but the abuse continued and, after someone discovered her address and publicized it, she said she was sent feces, maggots, sex toys, and other things through the mail.

Freitas said she filed a report on the harassment at one of the special stations set up for women, Delegacias da Mulher, after police at a regular station treated her rudely.

Her situation improved after one of Brazil’s top newspapers, O Estado de São Paulo, published her piece on the affair, something she said freaked the 4chan users.

“I am not 100 percent safe, my life revolves around this,” she told CPJ. “I don’t go out alone if it’s not necessary, I don’t give any clues to where I am, I don’t post photos. I feel a bit more secure now but I am trying to follow different routines.”

Such anonymous trolling, in Brazil and other countries, is increasingly seen as a problem that limits freedom of expression for journalists, bloggers, and even commenters. Women and minorities are particularly vulnerable, with one egregious example being the “Gamergate” case in which feminist critics who wrote about sexism in the gaming industry were threatened with rape and murder via social media. Recently, a group of female journalists and entrepreneurs designed an app, TrollBusters, to help locate and identify anonymous abusers.

In Brazil, journalists have long been targets for abuse and worse. CPJ records show it is the 11th deadliest country for the press, with at least 30 journalists killed directly for their work since 1992, almost all of them targeted for murder. Brazil’s poor record of impunity adds to the violence and intimidation, CPJ research shows.

Independent bloggers in provincial capitals and towns who cover crime and corruption are particularly at risk, CPJ research shows. Their work can reach a broad audience, yet the major media outlets rarely pay attention if they come under attack, CPJ found in a report for Attacks on the Press in 2012.

Décio Sá, a blogger in Maranhão state who worked for the influential O Estado de Maranhão and ran his own blog on the side, was killed in April 2012. His blog covered the intersection between politics and organized crime. Another victim was Mario Randolfo Marques Lopes, a blogger who wrote about corruption and ran a local news website in Barra do Piraí, a town about 90 miles northwest of Rio de Janeiro.

Araújo and Freitas are freelancers and their independence means their safety is unlikely to be a priority for authorities. Freitas said she doesn’t know if her case is being investigated, and Araújo said he has zero expectations the police are on his side.

They continue to work. And they continue to fear.

[Reporting from São Paulo, Brazil]