Facebook execs coach Brazil politicians before Internet vote

Reuters

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA, Oct 25 (Reuters) - As Brazil threatens to imposestrict new regulations on American Internet companies, Facebookoffered some of its top politicians free advice this week on howto win "friends" and maximize "likes" on their webpages.

Facebook's tips on using social media came as politiciansgeared up for a 2014 general election and as Congress preparedto vote on legislation that could severely restrict the waycompanies like Facebook, Twitter and Google operate in Brazil.

After revelations of U.S. government spying on Braziliancitizens and companies, including President Dilma Rousseff,Brazil is rushing through legislation that would oblige Internetcompanies to store information about their Brazilian users inthe country. The lower house of Congress votes on the measurenext Wednesday.

Internet companies and technology experts say the demandwould be costly and technically complicated.

With 76 million Facebook users, more than any other countryoutside the United States and possibly India, Brazil is a keymarket for the San Francisco-based social network. That alsomakes Facebook a powerful tool for Brazilian politiciansSeeking to win new supporters.

"That's such a huge voting block of citizens who are gettinga lot of their news and information from places like Facebook,"said Katie Harbath, Facebook's global manager for politics andgovernment engagement.

Harbath did not discuss Brazil's move to regulate Internetusage in her coaching sessions, but she conducted them withBruno Magrani, the company's top lobbyist in Brasilia.

Harbath spent four days in capital instructing Brazilianlawmakers and staffers in packed congressional rooms on how tomaximize the "likes" on their Facebook pages. She taughtPresident Dilma Rousseff's online team how boost her socialmedia presence.

Before joining Facebook, Harbath was a digital strategistfor the Republican National Committee and the 2008 presidentialcampaign of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Some of Harbath's tips: don't post more than three times aday to avoid boring potential supporters; be as authentic andpersonal as possible; engage constituents in question-and-answersessions, 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 peakFacebook usage. Compared with the United States, where usagepeaks between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., surveys show Facebook usage isheaviest in Brazil at lunchtime.

Harbath showed Brazilian politicians how to use Facebookmetadata tools to learn how many users visit their pages and atwhat time of the day.

In a telephone interview, she declined to comment on theimpact of Brazil's proposed Internet law.

LOCALIZING DATA CENTERS

Angered by reports that the U.S. National Security Agencymonitored emails, phone calls and other communications ofBrazilians with secret Internet surveillance programs,Rousseff's government wants to force foreign-based Internetcompanies to maintain data centers inside Brazil, subject toBrazilian privacy laws.

Internet companies operating in Brazil are currently free toput data centers wherever they like. Facebook Inc, forexample, stores its global data in the United States and a newcomplex in Sweden.

Business lobbies have written to lawmakers warning that thein-country data storage requirements could exclude BrazilianInternet users from cloud data storage services, shut off Brazilfrom the seamless flow of global information and hinder itshopes of becoming a regional IT and data center hub.

One lawmaker who met with Harbath, former Rio de JaneiroGovernor Antony Garotinho, said the requirement for local datacenters must be dropped.

"I'm against it. How are you going to store in Brazilinformation on Brazilians that is part of a worldwide network?It's kind of hard and I think it's unlikely to happen."

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