A Brazilian Supreme Court judge has suspended the messaging app Telegram, which is Bolsonaro’s major platform
A judge of Brazil’s Supreme Court, in a ruling published on Friday, has banned the popular messaging app Telegram across the country, with the exception of one of the favorite communication channels of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.
Citing Telegram’s failure to comply with Brazilian authorities’ orders and removing messages found to contain misleading information, Judge Alexandre de Moraes has ordered the app to be immediately banned in Brazil, in a ruling issued Thursday and published Friday on the Supreme Court’s website.
The decision comes as Bolsonaro prepares to seek re-election in October, in the face of his waning popularity and reliance on Telegram to rally his base.
“Telegram’s disrespect for Brazilian law and its repeated failure to comply with countless court decisions… is completely inconsistent with the rule of law,” Moraes wrote.
He said the company has repeatedly refused to comply with the rulings and requests of the police, the Electoral Court and the Supreme Court itself.
He said this includes a Supreme Court-ordered investigation into allegations against the Bolsonaro administration of using official communication channels to spread misinformation.
Bolsonaro publicly clashed with Moraes, who ordered him to personally investigate the case.
The president criticized the ruling, calling it “unacceptable” and saying it endangered the “freedom” of Brazilians.
Bolsonaro said Moraes “failed to take action against two or three people who should be banned, according to him, so he decided to affect 70 million people.”
Earlier, Bolsonaro tweeted a link to subscribe to his Telegram channel – which was still operating in Brazil on Friday afternoon.
“Our telegram informs people every day of many important measures concerning the national interest, which unfortunately many ignore,” he said.
“Welcome, share the truth.”
Bolsonaro’s Minister of Justice and Security Anderson Torres said on Twitter that millions of Brazilians were “suddenly wronged by an individual decision”, and added that his ministry was studying “a solution to give people the right to use the social network”. , without specifying what actions he intends to take.
Moraes’ decision gave Brazil’s National Communications Agency (Anatel) 24 hours to suspend Telegram’s operations across the country.
Political analyst and digital communications expert Pablo Ortilado said on Twitter that the decision “will have significant political and electoral ramifications.”
“This could trigger one of the key game parts of the campaign.”
Founded by Russian-born tech entrepreneur Pavel Durov in 2013, Dubai-based Telegram has been a hit in Brazil, downloading on 53 percent of all mobile phones.
Durov on Friday apologized to the Supreme Court in an Instagram post and blamed the problem of “misunderstanding”.
“On behalf of our team, I apologize to the Brazilian Supreme Court for our neglect. Certainly we could have done better,” he said.
Bolsonaro, who has banned several posts on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for violating their rules on misinformation, has been eagerly encouraging his base to follow him on Telegram ahead of the October elections.
He is trailing former leftist president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, his potential opponent, in the polls.
Electoral dispute Moras also noted Telegram’s repeated non-compliance with efforts by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to get it to cooperate in combating disinformation in the run-up to elections.
Telegram was notably absent last month when the court signed an agreement with eight leading social networks to combat disinformation during the election, including Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and YouTube.
The president of the court, Luis Roberto Barroso, wrote to Telegram headquarters in December, requesting a meeting and warning that the app is riddled with “conspiracy theories and false information about the (Brazilian) electoral system”.
In his ruling, Moraes said Telegram had “again ignored the Brazilian electoral authorities, affirming their total contempt for the Brazilian justice system”.
The ruling came in a case under a court order that Telegram ignored to ban the account of pro-Bolsonaro blogger Alan dos Santos.
Moraes said the company also refused to comply with a wide range of other requests from Brazilian authorities, including cases of child pornography.
Bolsonaro has over 1 million followers on Telegram, and that doesn’t include many fan groups with names like “Reelect Bolsonaro 2022”.
He is facing a series of investigations for spreading false information on social networks, in particular regarding his repeated allegations of rampant fraud in Brazil’s electronic voting system, for which he has not provided any evidence.
Telegram has made its refusal to cooperate with the authorities part of its branding.
It intentionally publishes encryption keys and chat data on disparate servers around the world so that governments cannot “intrusive into people’s privacy and freedom of expression,” it says on its website.
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