We at Catalyst Lab were given a challenge by the Institute for Technology and Society (ITS) Rio in early Fall of 2015. An independent think-tank, ITS serves as a leader on technology policy and practice and advocates on issues regarding privacy, security and human rights. One of the initiatives established by ITS is Plataforma Brasil (Brazil Platform); an online platform borne out of a need to create a space where people from different sectors can exchange, reflect and participate in the development of public policies. The platform’s forthcoming agenda was to open a discussion on the “proposal for constitutional amendment” (PEC 51), the purpose of which is to transform the institutional framework on public safety. The PEC 51 includes, for example, issues such as the demilitarization of the police, a contentious subject among society and different groups within the police force. It was at this juncture that the Catalyst Lab was roped in.
Subjects like the demilitarization of the police and the ones related to security and violence are heavy and controversial. The most obvious path to a social media campaign related to these topics is focusing on the angle of violence happening on a daily basis – like the record amount of cops being killed by criminals these days in Rio or, instead, the record amount of civilians being murdered by the cops in the same city. While these are already trending subjects, they are also deeply polarizing for this campaign. Our job is to create a bridge and humanize both sides -the police force and the favela youth gangs.
Since the prime goal for this campaign was to get several different stakeholders to participate in the discussion via the ITS platform, Catalyst Lab needed to provide a campaign that serves as the key hook to draw people to this platform. We needed content that would draw attention of the people on social media like Facebook by provoking, inspiring and challenging people to voice their opinions on this subject with a more open-minded perspective. After all, its a very competitive attention economy out there even on matters of social concern.
Emergence of our campaign idea: the context
Criminality on the busiest beaches of Rio’s South Zone has been a topic of ongoing concern. Some people defended the action of vigilantes that used their own resources to look for “justice” against groups of youngsters from poor areas that lead the so-called arrastões mainly in Ipanema beach. The governor ordered the police to stop and search the buses that take these youngsters from northern favelas to southern beaches at specific checkpoints at the borders of the richest area of the city. Everyone that was not wearing a shirt and without an ID was to be taken to the closest police station – measures that led to furious reactions from human rights entities and the press and the general public. These buses – specifically the line 474-Jacaré-Jardim de Alah, known for long as a dangerous and troubled one – became a powerful symbol and representation of the violence-related issues of the Brazilian society.
Our campaign decided to capitalize on the symbolism of this bus line. What would happen if we used this highly contentious context and space to do something completely unexpected? What if we provided an imagery and experience that is alien and even deeply affronting to the public given its far from the norm, how would people react? How could we shift the relationship between the police and youth in this context from one which is opposing to one of collegiality, what would the public think of this? For anyone who has been to Brazil, one clear factor that bridges all classes and sectors is their love for music – its everywhere, people jamming and playing at their homes, events, street fairs and parties. We needed to bring these two elements together.
Our key hook proposed is a video on the controversial bus that has become symbolic of violence in Brazil and particularly Rio. The script goes something like this. Three youngsters (who we have recruited for this campaign) from the favela that can play musical instruments will board the bus. A camera will be hidden on the top corner facing the people in the bus. Point of departure of the bus will be the favela do Jacaré in Rio. They will casually start playing songs that other passengers can connect to (carnival songs, bossa nova, funk). After a few stops, two people dressed as cops (we will hire 2 actors or they can be from the police orchestra) will enter the bus and start to question the youngsters, pretending to be rough – to create a few moments of tension in the audience. Then, unexpectedly, the cops will take out their own instruments hidden in their jacket and join in and start jamming with the favela youth without explanation. The video will capture people’s reactions. We also expect people to use their mobile devices to record this spectacle and we will plant in there our own people to also record on cameras people’s reactions and the jamming session.
Shortly after, the stunt will become obvious and the cops and youth will come clean to the audience. Here, our people on the bus will film the immediate reactions of the different people on the bus. We will use this material to create a video that we hope will go viral due to its unusual character and unexpected association with the police and the youth in a positive light. This will be shared on Facebook and Twitter and YouTube, among other social media channels. The video will end with the text provoking people to share their opinions on this, connecting them to the PlatformaBrazil website. We will leverage on trending hashtags related to the topic of violence, like #ViolênciaNão, #EncareaViolência, #PapoReto, #desmilitarização to gain more attention to this campaign and the website itself.
Team members for the project:
Anubha Sarkar: currently pursuing an MA in Cultural Economics and Entrepreneurship at Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands. She is from India and comes with a Media and Communication background.
Giuliander Carpes: is a Brazilian journalist with experience covering subjects such as violence, security, urban changes, politics, economy and sports. He recently concluded the master in Media and Business at the Erasmus University Rotterdam.