MESQUITA, Brazil — As Dilma Rousseff neared the end of her successful 2010 campaign to become Brazil’s president, Jeferson Monteiro set up a parody Twitter account and began having fun at her expense.
When Rousseff took office and abandoned her own account on the microblogging service, Monteiro began sending tweets as the president, adopting the manic and self-obsessed vernacular common to the teenagers dominating the social media networks. He gently lampooned a president often seen as serious and tough.
Monteiro’s version of the president, “Dilma Bolada,” which roughly translates to “Badass Dilma” in Brazilian Portuguese slang, constantly declared herself “beautiful,” “competent” and “a diva.” She sometimes gleefully attacked Rousseff’s political opponents and often bragged of the spoils of power.
“When I get to the nightclub, they close the street so I can skip past the line!” Dilma Bolada once exclaimed.
The parody went viral, as netizens shared the comedy that poked fun at the difficult job of being a female president — the country’s first — and took on current political issues, all without being cynical or mean-spirited.
Dilma Bolada’s most popular tweet played off the reputation of the ruling Workers’ Party for launching voter-pleasing programs that boost leaders’ popularity and influence.
“Print this tweet,” it read. “And take it in on Tuesday to your work/school/college and tell them that you skipped Monday under my orders.”
Though he racked up almost 800,000 followers on Dilma Bolada’s various social media accounts and collected numerous awards, Monteiro, now 23, never thought he’d be summoned to Brazil’s presidential palace to help launch Rousseff’s return to social media for her reelection bid next year.
The meeting of the two Dilmas in September and the associated media spectacle was considered by some analysts as a savvy way for the president to display her sense of humor and lighten her image. Rousseff, who sat next to Monteiro as they sent tweets and chatted, adopted some of the memes he created and has been tweeting vigorously.
Monteiro said later that he believed the meeting meant more than a photo opportunity for the president. The government’s lack of interaction with Brazilians on social networks became painfully obvious during the June protests over poor public services, police violence and corruption, he said.
“I don’t think that was a campaign act of hers,” he said, sitting by his laptop in the small bedroom he shares with his 30-year-old merchant marine brother, Rafael, in Mesquita, a small town about an hour from Rio de Janeiro.
Monteiro said he had learned a lot about the challenges of the presidency and politics in general during the last few years.
“I suppose I have started to identify with her a bit,” he said. “I had to learn a lot about how Brazil’s political system really works and what she is up against.”
He said he’d become used to Rousseff’s apparently confused opponents attacking him at times as though he were the “Presidenta,” or thinking that his skills online must mean he’s employed by the Workers’ Party, an idea he laughed off, as his mother prepared coffee nearby.
Monteiro makes his living through advertising partnerships related to Dilma Bolada and by giving lectures around Brazil on social media. There has been a significant lack of social network interaction between the country’s political establishment and the citizenry, he said.
“Until recently the PT [Workers’ Party] had no idea how to use the Internet,” he said. “All [political] parties are now scrambling to catch up.”
Since Rousseff cruised to power, supported by the popular outgoing left-of-center leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and stopped her social media activity in 2011, things have been complicated in Latin America’s largest country. An economic boom ground to a near-halt in 2012, and this June, more than a million people took to the streets to protest conditions in the country.
Rousseff nevertheless remains the front-runner in what looks to be a difficult election next year against the traditional PSDB center-right party and a new Socialist-environmentalist alliance, and her ratings have recovered a bit since they took a hit during the protests. She was boosted recently by local support when she stood up to Washington out of anger over reports that the United States had spied on her and other Brazilian officials, based on documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
When Rousseff snubbed President Obama by canceling a state visit to Washington planned for this month and then railed against U.S. spying while at the United Nations, Dilma Bolada riffed gleefully on the diplomatic fallout with the world’s most powerful man.
The ersatz president’s Facebook profile featured a video of her iPhone buzzing constantly and displaying Obama’s face, giving the impression that the U.S. president was desperately trying to reach her only to be rejected by a busy and self-satisfied Dilma.
Later, Dilma Bolada tweeted:
“Who told Obama to spy on me instead of taking care of his own country? Now he’s dealing with a government shutdown. I’m dying of laughter.”
Bevins is a special correspondent.