For many us today social media is an exciting new tool that allows political activists to mobilise quickly and effectively. All over the world — from the Arab Spring to the Occupy London movement — social media have played a key role.
But a recent blog posted in Brazil draws attention to another – far more disturbing – use of social media. A wave of massacres, apparently revenge killings by the police, has been sweeping the country. The latest took place on 13 August when 19 people were killed in a couple of hours in poor areas on the outskirts of São Paulo. Between 17 and 20 July 34 people were killed in the Amazon city of Manaus. In November of last year nine people were killed in another Amazon city — Belém. In all cases the police used whatsapp – an instant messaging app for smartphones – to coordinate their killings and to celebrate them afterwards. The police also use their whatsapp to exchange addresses of suspected criminals and to share photos of them.
Very often the police pre-announce the massacre on their whatsapp. In Manaus, the killings, which took place after a policeman had died in a police action, occurred after people, identifying themselves as policemen, had posted messages in which they said they were “hunting down scoundrels” and aanounced the imminent arrival of “the lady of death”. In Belém, the police exchanged a flurry of messages specifying the areas of the city in which the deaths would occur. After the killings, photos of the corpses were shared on social media. In another case, in São Paulo, four youngsters were shot dead after being chased by the police. Photos of the corpses were posted on the whatsapp of relatives and friends.
The blogger, Bruno Paes Manso, believes that, by allowing the police to indulge in a macabre form of narcissism, the new technology may explain why the number of police-related homicides has been increasing, when most other types of crime are falling. In 2014 there were 806 cases of this kind of homicide, up on the 715 in 2012 and 608 in 2006. During the first half of this year, the police killed 413 people, 74 more than in the same period in 2014.