2021-09-16 01:39:45 Bolsonaro’s Ban on Removing Social Media Posts Is Overturned in Brazil
Bolsonaro’s Ban on Removing Social Media Posts Is Overturned in Brazil
Brazil’s Senate and Supreme Court have invalidated rules issued by President Jair Bolsonaro last week prohibiting social media platforms from removing what they consider to be disinformation about the upcoming presidential election.
The court’s and Congress’s simultaneous actions late Tuesday effectively killed one of the most restrictive and intrusive internet laws ever imposed in a democratic country. It was a stinging rebuke to a president who was already dealing with a string of political crises.
Mr. Bolsonaro’s policy was the first time a national government intervened to prevent social media companies from removing content that violated their policies.
The move alarmed technology companies and Mr. Bolsonaro’s political opponents because it appeared to be designed to allow the president and his allies to undermine confidence in the presidential election next year.
Mr. Bolsonaro has used social media in recent months to spread claims that the only way he will lose the election is if the vote is rigged. Such claims would have been protected under Mr. Bolsonaro’s emergency measure, which gave social media companies 30 days to comply.
However, the Supreme Court suspended the rules from taking effect on Tuesday, while the president of the Brazilian Senate effectively shelved them.
“The reaction of the Brazilian political class is a very positive sign,” said Mauricio Santoro, a professor of international relations at the State University of Rio de Janeiro. “The Brazilian leadership is finally realizing the importance of the internet in Brazilian political life.”
Mr. Bolsonaro used the internet to help him win the presidency in 2018, spreading his brand of right-wing populism through social media. Faced with crises such as the pandemic, corruption investigations, and dwindling poll numbers, he is turning to social media once more — this time to try to save his presidency.
Mr. Bolsonaro has attacked the Supreme Court in social media posts and videos, touted unproven cures for the coronavirus, and called for nationwide protests against his political opponents. Some of his posts about the coronavirus were removed by social media platforms.
Then, on the eve of nationwide protests last week, he issued a so-called provisional measure, which is a type of emergency order intended to address urgent situations. Only posts containing certain types of content, such as nudity, the encouragement of crime, or infringement on intellectual property, could be removed under the policy. Companies needed a court order to remove other posts.
The Bolsonaro administration also limited social media companies’ ability to delete user accounts, potentially shielding Mr. Bolsonaro from the fate that befell his political ally, former President Donald J. Trump. Mr. Trump’s megaphone was turned off earlier this year when the major social networks barred him from using their platforms.
The new rules were slammed by social media companies, who claimed they would allow misinformation to spread. On Wednesday, a Twitter spokeswoman said the Bolsonaro policy “undermines the values and consensus” of Brazilian internet laws, while praising the actions of the Senate and Supreme Court. Facebook and YouTube did not respond to requests for comment.
The government of Mr. Bolsonaro did not respond to a request for comment.
The Supreme Court of Brazil has been looking into disinformation operations in the country, and Mr. Bolsonaro became a target of those investigations last month. Justice Alexandre de Moraes, a member of the court, has imprisoned several of the president’s supporters for allegedly funding or inciting violence or anti-democratic acts.
Mr. Bolsonaro has called the arrests political, and Justice Moraes has been the target of nationwide protests by the president’s supporters this month.
Conservative politicians in the United States have sought to pass similar legislation as part of a larger battle with Silicon Valley over what they see as the censorship of right-wing voices by technology companies.
Florida passed legislation in May to prohibit social media platforms from removing political candidates from their platforms, but it was overturned by a federal judge a month later. A similar bill was signed into law by Texas’ governor last week.
Mr. Bolsonaro’s rules faced stiff opposition in Brazil.
These temporary measures will expire in 120 days unless Brazil’s Congress makes them permanent. Instead, the Senate’s president, Rodrigo Pacheco, returned them to Mr. Bolsonaro in less than a week, effectively killing the bill.
The Senate president and the Supreme Court both stated that the rules should not have been issued as a temporary measure because they did not address an urgent situation and Congress was debating a bill to regulate social networks.
They also claimed that the rules would have been detrimental to the country, according to Carlos Affonso Souza, a professor of internet law at Rio de Janeiro State University. “There was a general concern that the online environment would become more toxic and dangerous,” he explained.
Mr. Affonso Souza stated that the Senate’s decision prevented Mr. Bolsonaro from implementing the same rules this year, but he could try again in 2022.
Given the upcoming presidential election and Mr. Bolsonaro’s low poll numbers, Mr. Santoro predicted the president would try something new to ensure he could continue to use the internet to spread his message.
“He’s not going to give up this fight easily,” he said. “He places a high value on the internet.”