I am from Brazil, a country well-known for football and FIFA World Cup titles — and the host of the World Cup in 2014. Being a sceptical journalist, in 2019 I tried to discover the real impacts of that 2014 World Cup on the 213 million residents of Brazil: tracking the 121 infrastructure projects that the Brazilian government carried out for the competition and which were considered the “major social legacy” of the tournament.
In 2018 the Brazilian government had taken the website and official database on the 2014 FIFA World Cup infrastructure projects offline — so I had to make Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests to get data.
The investigation took 3 months and more than 230 FOIA requests to 33 different public bodies in Brazil. On August 23, my story was published.
Here is everything that I have learned from making those hundreds of FOIA requests:
Government says journalist “extracted data improperly” — but the journalist affirms that he only used a browser’s Inspect Element tool, reports Beatriz Farrugia.
Data journalism has been at the centre of a political debate in Brazil for two weeks after President Jair Bolsonaro’s government made allegations against a data journalist — for extracting data from a web app developed by the Brazilian Ministry of Health to prescribe treatments against COVID-19.
However, the data journalist Rodrigo Menegat analyzed the app’s source code and found that, regardless of the patient’s symptoms, age and health conditions, TrateCov indicated the use of chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin — drugs with no scientific evidence supporting their use in the treatment of coronavirus.
“I just put in the TrateCov app that my patient is a one week-old newborn who has a stomach ache and a runny nose. The app recommended chloroquine, ivermectin, azithromycin and everything else. Crime, crime, crime, crime.”
Other journalists and broadcasters tested the app and came to the same conclusion.
Soon after the complaints, the app was removed by the Brazilian Government.
Accused of committing cyber crime
Then on May 25th, during a public session of a parliamentary inquiry, Menegat was accused of having committed cyber crime by an official of the Brazilian Ministry of Health: Mayra Pinheiro.
The parliamentary inquiry, opened late last month, is investigating the Bolsonaro government’s response to the pandemic. More than 461,000 people have died in Brazil so far.
Approved by Brazil’s Supreme Court, the inquiry is pursuing multiple lines of investigation, such as why the Brazilian government promoted ineffective treatments and why three health ministers were removed over the pandemic.
Naming the data journalist, Pinheiro said Menegat performed an “improper data extraction”.
“He was unable to hack,” said Mayra. “He did an improper data extraction. Hacking is when you use someone’s password, enter a platform, a system. The term is not hacking. Today we have the official report that classifies it as improper data extraction.
“He did improper simulations. [The system] was taken down for investigation.”
In another testimony session to the parliamentary inquiry the previous week the former Health Minister General Eduardo Pazuello said that the app had been “stolen and hacked by a citizen”.
“As a data journalist and developer, I only analyzed the source code which was public and available on the website of the TrateCov app, saved on a government server (https://tratecov.saude.gov.br) and accessible to any internet user curious enough to do this verification on their own.”
“The procedure has in no way altered any content on the platform”, he added.
Since the allegations Menegat has limited his social media accounts to avoid online attacks by government supporters.
“I am closing my Twitter account for more than an obvious reason, but I will be very pleased to show who wants to know how to use the Element Inspector to access source code from any website in the world,” wrote the journalist.
Other Brazilian data journalists showed support for Menegat and published content explaining the technique used to analyse the app.
Looking across the comments in the first discussion of the EJC’s data journalism MOOC it struck me that some pieces of work in the field come up again and again. I thought I’d pull those together quickly here and ask: is this the beginnings of a ‘canon’ in data journalism? And what should such a canon include? Stick with me past the first obvious examples…
Early data vis
These examples of early data visualisation are so well-known now that one book proposal I recently saw specified that it would not talk about them. I’m talking of course about… Continue reading →
“Last year, electoral reform opened the door for politics 2.0 by authorizing parties to use social networks to raise campaign donations and participate in streamlined debates”, claims Manuella Ribeiro about the recent Brazilian election that made Dilma Rousseff the new president.
Ribeiro made a compilation of the best online projects that worked on transparency, civic engagement and public policies monitors. Here are my personal favorites:
Eu lembro: “Be a voter with an elephant’s memory. Vote and remember everything that happens to politicians”.
VotenaWeb: “A site where you can approach the decisions of National Congress that directly affect your life. Vote and be heard”. Citizens can compare, with an easy interface, their votes on bills and the votes of politicians. The congressional bills are translated into simple language and you can monitor the voting records of different candidates.
Quanto vale seu candidato?: in English “How much is your candidate worth?” is a nice piece of data journalism with information about the patrimony of candidates.
Eleitor 2010: developed with Ushahidi to monitor the elections, receive and map complaints about electoral crimes through Twitter, SMS, email and social networks.
Adote um Vereador: encourages citizens to “adopt” a city councilman and open blog about their work to keep an eye on them and their parliamentary activities.
Online journalism in Brazil has grown a lot in the last few years, especially in the last 12 months. Many websites have changed their models recently, going from a traditional style to a more “web 2.0” concept. The community participation and the use of new tools are growing since then. Blogs are a constant. Continue reading →