Tinder: Not just for hookups and awkward dates anymore. Now the app can also count among its services the ability to infiltrate radical groups conspiring against the government – or, as it turned out in this case, groups of people just trying to find some friends to go to a Sunday afternoon protest with.
As El País‘ Marina Rossi Fernandes reported, Willian Pina Botelho, a captain in the Brazilian Military Police Intelligence Division, created a false Tinder profile as part of an operation to find and arrest protestors heading to the Fora Temer march in São Paulo on September 4. Acting under the pseudonym “Balta Nunes,” Botelho described himself as interested in “leftist women” and his profile included the quote, “Democracy is the road to socialism,” incorrectly attributed to Karl Marx (sexy). That his profile wasn’t flagged right away as fake speaks to how many weirdoes are on Tinder.
In a conversation obtained by Ponte (pictured), Botelho tried to come across as “cool” and down with LGBT rights with all the grace and believability of an Evangelical Christian at a gay pride parade. “Good for you,” the girl told him after he proclaimed his support for LGBT rights. “You say that as if it weren’t something cool!” Botelho replied. “It’s cool yes, but no one deserves an award for being reasonable,” she answered. Awkward, but then what Tinder-fueled conversation isn’t? The days of “Bernie Babes” getting banned from Tinder for using the app to campaign seem like child’s play now.
Botelho’s alter ego Balta made further inroads by joining Facebook events for Temer protests and a Whatsapp group for protestors wanting to meet up together before attending the Avenida Paulista march. Through the Whatsapp group, Botelho met with 21 would-be protestors at São Paulo’s Consolação metro station on Sunday afternoon, and led them to the Centro Cultural Vergueiro where police intercepted them. Police confiscated the group’s phones, but Botelho’s was returned to him for the totally normal and believable reason that his wife needed to call him. As Botelho was also the only one in the group not to be taken into police custody, his identity was quickly discovered (has no one in this operation ever seen an undercover cop movie?).
The supposed adversary in these police busts are members of the “black blocs,” or groups of protestors dressed in all black to disguise their identities. Brazil’s black blocs haven’t formed a formidable group however, and are mostly unorganized groups of young people. The people Botelho picked up weren’t exactly plotting a radical government takedown; one young man was there doing research for a university course. After searching the protestors’ backpacks, police found innocuous items like a first aid kit and a fire extinguisher.
But Botelho’s avant-garde method of police work was all for naught. Judge Paulo Rodrigo Tellini de Aguirre Camargo released the detained protestors who had been in police custody overnight, saying Brazil has no right to arrest them under the pretense that they may participate in violence or vandalism at the protest. “That time, happily, has passed,” Camargo said, in reference to Brazil’s military dictatorship of 1964-1985. A Facebook video shows the group happily being released.
And this isn’t even the worst look for the Military Police, known as the Polícia Militar or PM in Brazil, to have emerged this month. Coronel Pedro Chavarry Duarte was apprehended over the weekend after police officers found him abusing a two-year-old girl in his car. Chavarry, who attempted to use his position to dissuade the officers from arresting him, was also involved in trafficking infants in the 1990s.
Absurd as Botelho’s crusade was, the military’s use of platforms like Tinder to spy on private citizens signals a frightening shift. Brazil’s political situation is murky following Dilma’s impeachment, but many Brazilians fear the gradual move to the right will lead to a repeat of the 1960s – even then the change from a democracy to a dictatorship did not come all at once, but took years to fully materialize. The PM in particular has been an active presence in Fora Temer protests, at times turning to violence against participants, press and even bystanders.
The PM has not given an official response to the press about Botelho’s Tinder campaign.