by Helena Vetorazo
Ph.D. Candidate in Social Sciences in Education at University of Campinas (UNICAMP)
Member of BRaS Research Group Social Media Studies
Cláudia Pires de Castro
Master in Journalism and Communication Sciences (Universität Wien), Master’s candidate in Political Science (Universität Wien), Head of BRaS Research Group Social Media Studies
Reviewed by Matheus Lucas Hebling
Brazilians’ love for social networks is not new. Since the times of Orkut, Brazil has been among the most assiduous on the networks, one of the first social networks in the early 2000s, counting 30 million Brazilian users. However, in 2001 Orkut lost its throne to Facebook, which soon built an empire by adding new territories to its domains, Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014.
Mobile network operators realized that Brazilians make multiple uses of their smartphones and soon began to encourage the use of digital platforms by offering free access to data packages. This so-called free service means that Brazilians have a longer time using social networks than the world average. According to the Digital Report 2021, 79% of Brazilian users access Facebook at least once a day, being that 39% of this access it several times a day, and 14% stay connected to the platform full day. These data draw attention to the potential problems related to emotional dependence, the use of information collected from users, and the dissemination of fake news and trigger the red light for many researchers in the fields of social sciences, psychology, medicine, and other areas interested in analyzing the impacts of the use of social networks in different spheres of social life.
The global Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp outage on October 4th, called in Brazil the “blackout of the networks”, showed that the dependency on social networks extends to three spheres of life: the emotional, the physical, and the financial. The emotional dependence on likes, a theme that was highlighted in the first year of the pandemic, is a phenomenon that, according to clinical psychologist and Ph.D. in social psychology Ivete Labres, more often affects people with a certain psychological vulnerability, such as low self-esteem, the need for approval, insecurity. Social networks work as an escape route for these people, where the “likes” are received to fill the existential emptiness. Further very emblematic is that Zuckerberg’s networks breakdown happened just a few days after the Wall Street Journal revealed that Facebook Inc. has information that Instagram is harmful to the mental health of young people, especially women in their teenage years, precisely this phase when body transformations create insecurity and increase appearance-based comparisons.
The dependence of social networks in the physical sphere is also immensely relevant. We call the behavior of social network users in their relationship with their cell phones physical dependence. A study conducted by Hibou, a consulting company specialized in market monitoring and consumption, has brought out some relevant information about the relationship between Brazilians and their cell phones. Hibou identified in 2019 that 91% of Brazilians could not stay away from their cell phones for more than an hour; 66% of Brazilians said that if they wake up in the middle of the night, they usually always check their cell phones; 85% of Brazilians said it is through the cell phones that they most access social networks. The need to stay connected to social networks gives rise to a physical dependence that, according to medical research developed in Brazil and abroad, has been increasing the risks of obesity, diabetes, and also impairing the user’s sleep.
Lastly, there is financial dependence, a theme that has been little addressed until now, but it is an aspect that has intensified with the pandemic. Sebrae’s research, “The Impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic on Small Businesses” gives us an idea of the dimension of this problem: 70% of small Brazilian businesses sell online; within this total, communications happen 84% via WhatsApp, 54% via Instagram, and 51% via Facebook; in other words, communication happens mostly within Zuckerberg’s Kingdom. Businesses that used to operate in physical places have migrated to WhatsApp groups and become profiles on Instagram. These platforms, much more than places of support, are used as digital business counters. In the case of entrepreneurs who depends on social networks, the tension of keeping up with the numbers, analytics report and the repercussion of publications, added up to the fear of not being understood and being “Canceling” for having said or done something are threats that have gained another dimension: the risk of breakdown.
We have to agree with Carlos Affonso Souza, Director at Instituto de Tecnologia & Sociedade do Rio de Janeiro and Professor at Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), who states that Zuckerberg’s breakdown revealed how much the Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp combo had become a true “Cesta básica” (monthly supply of essential goods) of internet access in Brazil. We recognize that confusing internet with social networks is already practically an element embedded in the Brazilian’s culture, so to treat dependency it is necessary to find innovative, creative, interdisciplinary solutions so that collectively we can, on the one hand, think of alternatives in the technology market so that we do not continue to depend on just a few groups and, on the other hand, develop a robust media literacy plan.
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Claudia Pires de Castro and Helena Vetorazo (2021) "The “Blackout of the networks” and the exposure of dependencies". Brazilian Research and Studies Blog. ISSN 2701-4924. Vol. 2 Num. 2. available at: https://bras-center.com/the-blackout-of-the-networks-and-the-exposure-of-dependencies/, accessed on: November 29, 2022.