BRASILIA Oct 25 As Brazil threatens to impose
strict new regulations on American Internet companies, Facebook
offered some of its top politicians free advice this week on how
to win "friends" and maximize "likes" on their webpages.
Facebook's tips on using social media came as politicians
geared up for a 2014 general election and as Congress prepared
to vote on legislation that could severely restrict the way
companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google operate in Brazil.
After revelations of U.S. government spying on Brazilian
citizens and companies, including President Dilma Rousseff,
Brazil is rushing through legislation that would oblige Internet
companies to store information about their Brazilian users in
the country. The lower house of Congress votes on the measure
Internet companies and technology experts say the demand
would be costly and technically complicated.
With 76 million Facebook users, more than any other country
outside the United States and possibly India, Brazil is a key
market for the San Francisco-based social network. That also
makes Facebook a powerful tool for Brazilian politicians
Seeking to win new supporters.
"That's such a huge voting block of citizens who are getting
a lot of their news and information from places like Facebook,"
said Katie Harbath, Facebook's global manager for politics and
Harbath did not discuss Brazil's move to regulate Internet
usage in her coaching sessions, but she conducted them with
Bruno Magrani, the company's top lobbyist in Brasilia.
Harbath spent four days in capital instructing Brazilian
lawmakers and staffers in packed congressional rooms on how to
maximize the "likes" on their Facebook pages. She taught
President Dilma Rousseff's online team how boost her social
Before joining Facebook, Harbath was a digital strategist
for the Republican National Committee and the 2008 presidential
campaign of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
Some of Harbath's tips: don't post more than three times a
day to avoid boring potential supporters; be as authentic and
personal as possible; engage constituents in question-and-answer
sessions, virtual town halls that are so popular with U.S.
congressmen that they call them Facebook Fridays.
Above all, she advised, post content at the time of peak
Facebook usage. Compared with the United States, where usage
peaks between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., surveys show Facebook usage is
heaviest in Brazil at lunchtime.
Harbath showed Brazilian politicians how to use Facebook
metadata tools to learn how many users visit their pages and at
what time of the day.
In a telephone interview, she declined to comment on the
impact of Brazil's proposed Internet law.
LOCALIZING DATA CENTERS
Angered by reports that the U.S. National Security Agency
monitored emails, phone calls and other communications of
Brazilians with secret Internet surveillance programs,
Rousseff's government wants to force foreign-based Internet
companies to maintain data centers inside Brazil, subject to
Brazilian privacy laws.
Internet companies operating in Brazil are currently free to
put data centers wherever they like. Facebook Inc, for
example, stores its global data in the United States and a new
complex in Sweden.
Business lobbies have written to lawmakers warning that the
in-country data storage requirements could exclude Brazilian
Internet users from cloud data storage services, shut off Brazil
from the seamless flow of global information and hinder its
hopes of becoming a regional IT and data center hub.
One lawmaker who met with Harbath, former Rio de Janeiro
Governor Antony Garotinho, said the requirement for local data
centers must be dropped.
"I'm against it. How are you going to store in Brazil
information on Brazilians that is part of a worldwide network?
It's kind of hard and I think it's unlikely to happen."