Infectados pelo V

Like zombies in search of fresh brains, social networks will rise from the grave when you least expect them. Especially if Brazilian hackers are involved

By Andrew Leonard

Published December 19, 2007 12:30PM (EST)

Like an unexpected phone call from an ex-lover, e-mails from social networks that you abandoned ages ago have a way of throwing you off your game. They are at once titillating and yet doomed from the start. What? Some lonely soul sent me a message on Friendster? You know it has to be spam from a porn site, but still, every now and then you are compelled to log on and take a look anyway, even if your lack of interest in Friendster is so overwhelming you can't even bestir yourself to delete your account.

But then an e-mail from someone you do know posts a scrapbook entry on your Orkut page, and even though the only time in the last year that you've logged onto that network was to investigate a tale of Indians organizing themselves by caste you find your curiosity piqued again. (Orkut was Google's first entry into social networking, but is far more popular in Brazil and India than in the United States. Go figure.)

But the scrapbook message is in Portuguese, and despite your respect for the many talents of Mike Godwin, you're pretty sure that he is not fluent in the language of samba and the beautiful game. And then another scrapbook entry e-mail arrives from another friend, and you realize, you've been hacked! By Brazilians!

Just about an hour ago, after conversing with a similarly afflicted Orkut user, I noticed that I had somehow been dragooned into a new Orkut group called "Infectados pelo Vírus do Orkut" -- which, according to Google's translation app. means "Infected by Virus Orkut" At 9:47 p.m., there were391, 743 members of this group.

I googled the phrase "Infectados pelo Vírus do Orkut" and generated ten hits, nearly all of which appeared to be Brazilians asking each other the Portuguese version of "Huh? Wha happened?" But, and this is why I love the Internet, even as it afflicts me with Portuguese viruses on ghost-town social networking pages -- there was also already a brand spanking new post by Kee Hinckley on the blog Technosocial: "Google's Orkut Hit with a Javascript (Flash?) Worm."

You get an e-mail notification (or find out on Orkut) that you have a new scrapbook entry. It's from a friend. It says.

2008 vem ai... que ele comece mto bem para vc

There's no need to click on anything, just viewing it does the trick. The scrap deletes itself, and adds you to the Orkut Community "Infectados pelo Vírus do Orkut". That group, as I write this, is gaining members at a rate of at least one hundred per minute.

Ah, but by 9:55 p.m., the group was down to 391,361. Order must be restored!

As viruses go, the Brazilian Orkut Virus does not seem all that threatening. One can even be mildly amused by the whole spectacle -- I would have loved to have known, when writing an endlessly long two-part feature on social networking for Salon in 2004 that three years later Brazilians would be using it to mess with my head with an inane virus. It would have made for a great kicker. But one can just as easily be disconcerted. This virus might be harmless, but what about the next one? How long before brain-eating strings of code leap straight out of a social networking dead zone and into my very soul?

OK, that probably already happened. And life goes on.

One of the obsessions of this blog is with delineating the unexpected interconnections that splice us all together in an infinitely intoxicating web. This has always been true -- the Net just makes it more so, and in some ways, easier to see. Through the prism of this blog I've learned about Brazilian ethanol, delighted in the open source rhetoric of Gilberto Gil, and pondered the sociopolitical implications of 17th century Portuguese sugar plantations. And now I've been victimized by my first Brazilian hack. Something tells me it won't be the last.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Brazil Globalization How The World Works Latin America