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Brazil’s Supreme Court suspends Telegram, a key Bolsonaro platform | Tech News

By Ricardo Brito and Lisandra Paraguassu

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes on Friday ordered the suspension of messaging app Telegram, saying it had repeatedly refused to comply with court orders to freeze accounts spreading misinformation or complying with the laws of the land, according to a copy of the ruling seen by Reuters.

In response, Telegram founder and CEO Pavel Durov apologized for the company’s “negligence” and asked the court to postpone its decision for a few days as it seeks to improve compliance.

Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and his supporters have increasingly relied on Telegram as a form of mass communication as big tech companies like Meta, which owns the WhatsApp messaging app, Google and Alphabet’s Twitter Inc, have adhered to Supreme Court orders to remove the offending accounts. spread misinformation.

Moraes’ decision, which is likely to fuel debate over free speech in a politically polarized Brazil, represents the latest chapter in the crusading battle for justice against Bolsonaro and his allies.

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Moraes led a series of Supreme Court investigations into Bolsonaro and his supporters for spreading fake news — investigations that enraged many on the right and raised questions about judicial excesses.

Speaking at a religious event in the western state of Acre, Bolsonaro said the court’s decision was “inadmissible”.

According to Moraes’ ruling, Telegram had repeatedly failed to block offending accounts and ignored court rulings.

Durov, the founder of Telegram, blamed his company’s shortcomings on email issues, saying “we definitely could have done a better job.” Writing on his personal Telegram account, Durov asked the court to delay its decision.

“I am certain that once a reliable channel of communication is established, we will be able to deal effectively with requests for the removal of illegal public channels in Brazil,” he wrote.

Moraes gave Wilson Diniz Wellisch, the head of telecoms regulator Anatel, 24 hours to implement the suspension, which would last until Telegram complies with outstanding court orders, pays a series of fines and presents a representative of the country in court.

Moraes also ordered Apple and Google to block users of their platforms from using Telegram in Brazil. Apple and Google declined to comment.

Anatel said it had “transmitted the court ruling to entities operating in the regulated sector”.

Moraes’ decision was soon met with official opposition.

Writing on Twitter, Justice Minister Anderson Torres criticized Moraes’ “monocratic” decision, which he said “harmed millions of Brazilians”. Torres said he had instructed his ministry to “study a solution to restore people’s right to use the social network of their choice.”

Telegram has proven popular with far-right groups around the world.

In Germany, where local media reported that in February police blocked 64 Telegram channels, the app has been accused of fueling an increasingly vocal subculture of anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists who exchange information about supposed dangers and organize demonstrations that have degenerated into violence.

In January, Bolsonaro accused the country’s top electoral authority of “cowardice” for considering banning the messaging app amid concerns it was being used to spread “fake news”.

(Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Will Dunham)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.