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Brazil Supreme Court judge removes ban on Telegram

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After some of his posts were erased from Youtube, Twitter and Facebook, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is concentrating his digital supporters in Telegram, a platform that suits perfectly with his defense of an unlimited freedom of expression. AFP

Brazil Supreme Court judge removes ban on Telegram

The Supreme Court judge who had ordered messaging app Telegram blocked in Brazil reversed the ruling on March 20, after the tech company complied with an earlier decree to make changes to the platform.

“Considering that the [court’s requested changes] were fully attended to, I revoke the decision to fully and completely suspend the operation of Telegram in Brazil,” Judge Alexandre de Moraes wrote in a document released by the court.

Citing what he called Telegram’s failure to comply with orders from Brazilian authorities and remove messages found to contain disinformation, Moraes had ordered the app blocked immediately in Brazil.

Following the suspension order, Telegram founder Pavel Durov apologised to the Supreme Court and blamed a “communication problem” that he said was due to misplaced emails.

He asked the court to postpone the order to allow time for Telegram to appoint a representative in Brazil and improve communications with the court. The judge on March 19 gave Telegram 24 hours to enact changes so he could lift the ban.

On March 20, Moraes said the company informed him it had adopted several anti-disinformation measures, including the “manual” monitoring of the 100 most popular channels in Brazil.

It now also will tag specific posts as misleading, restrict several profiles that disseminated disinformation and promote verified information.

The order on March 18 to block the app throughout the country never actually went into effect and Telegram had continued to function normally throughout the weekend.

Mobile operators like TIM, however, were alerting customers via text message that the app would be blocked from March 21.

The judge had also asked for the removal of an August Telegram post by Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro in which he questioned, without evidence, the reliability of Brazil’s electronic voting system, which has been in use since 1996.

By March 19, the post had disappeared. “This message cannot be shown” because “it violated local laws”, a notification said in its place.

Bolsonaro had called the app’s suspension “inadmissible”, saying it threatened the freedoms of Brazilians.

The judge “failed to act against the two or three people that according to him should be blocked, so he decided to affect 70 million people . . . What is at stake is our freedom,” said Bolsonaro.

The kerfuffle came as far-right Bolsonaro, who has been gearing up to seek re-election in October, faces a slump in popularity.

Bolsonaro, who has had various posts blocked on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for violating their rules on misinformation, has been encouraging his base to follow him on Telegram.

With more than a million followers on the platform – not including numerous fan groups with names like “Reelect Bolsonaro 2022” – he is counting on the app to rally his base.

The government had appealed against the suspension order, with Attorney General Bruno Bianco contending that Moraes’s ruling was “disproportionate” and should be reversed.

But Moraes said Telegram had repeatedly refused to comply with rulings and requests from police, the Superior Electoral Tribunal and the Supreme Court itself.

That includes a Supreme Court-ordered investigation into allegations against the Bolsonaro administration of using official communication channels to spread disinformation, he said.

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