Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes ordered the suspension of messaging app Telegram. They said that it had repeatedly refused to adhere to judicial orders to freeze accounts spreading disinformation. Telegram founder and CEO Pavel Durov apologized for the company’s negligence, and asked the court to delay its ruling for a few days as it sought to improve compliance.
Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and his supporters have increasingly relied upon Telegram. This is as a form of mass communication, because larger tech companies like Meta, Alphabet Inc’s Google and Twitter have adhered to Supreme Court orders to drop offending accounts over allegedly spreading disinformation. Moraes’ decision, which is likely to stoke debate about freedom of speech in politically polarized Brazil. This represents the latest chapter in the crusading justice’s battle with Bolsonaro and his allies.
Moraes has been leading a series of Supreme Court investigations into Bolsonaro. His supporters for disseminating fake news, probes that have enraged many on the right and raised questions about judicial overreach. In a religious event in the western state of Acre, Bolsonaro said that the court’s decision was inadmissible. According to Moraes’ ruling, Telegram had repeatedly failed to block offending accounts and ignored the court’s decisions. Durov, Telegram’s founder, blamed his company’s shortcomings on email issues, saying that they definitely could have done a better job. In his personal Telegram account, Durov asked the court to delay its ruling.
He wrote that he is certain that once a reliable channel of communication is established, they will be able to efficiently process takedown requests for public channels that are illegal in Brazil. Moraes gave Wilson Diniz Wellisch, the head of telecoms regulator Anatel, 24 hours to implement the suspension, which would stand until Telegram complies with outstanding judicial orders, pays a series of fines and presents a country representative before the court.
Moraes also ordered Apple and Google to help block users on their platforms from being able to use Telegram in Brazil. Anatel said that it had forwarded the judicial decision to the entities operating in the regulated sector. Moraes’ decision quickly faced official opposition. Writing on Twitter, Justice Minister Anderson Torres criticized Moraes’ monocratic decision. In this, he said that had harmed millions of Brazilians. Torres said that he had instructed his ministry to study a solution to restore the people’s right to use whatever social network they wish. Telegram has proved popular with far-right groups worldwide.
In Germany, the app has been blamed for fuelling an increasingly virulent subculture of anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists. In January, Bolsonaro accused the country’s top electoral authority of cowardice for considering a ban of the messaging app amid concerns of its use for spreading fake news.