RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Brazil’s Supreme Court banned the popular messaging service Telegram, in a widening crackdown on what authorities describe as fake news and hate speech in the lead up to presidential elections later this year.
On Friday, Justice Alexandre de Moraes ordered internet providers and digital stores to block the app after repeated attempts by the federal police to get in touch with the service to remove content.
Telegram is “notoriously known for its stance of not cooperating with judicial and police authorities in several countries,” police wrote in their request to Moraes, which he cited in his decision. “It has become an open space for the proliferation of various content, including that with repercussions in the criminal area.”
The push to shut Telegram in Brazil is part of wide-reaching efforts to combat misinformation and falsehoods about the country’s electoral system.
President Jair Bolsonaro and his allies have pushed their online supporters to the London-based platform, after popular apps such as Twitter and Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook took down posts containing false information about COVID-19, and promoting unproven remedies.
Bolsonaro, who often claims he is being silenced by Big Tech, is himself a user of the app. Critics say Telegram has become a safe haven for conspiracy theories and vitriol.
Pavel Durov, Telegram’s founder and chief executive officer, said the ruling was simply the result of miscommunication, and that his platform was working to comply with the court’s orders.
“On behalf of our team, I apologize to the Brazilian Supreme Court for our negligence. We definitely could have done a better job,” Durov said in a statement published on his Telegram channel.
Durov asked the court to delay its ban to while it processed the takedown requests.
While WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, continues to be more popular in Brazil, an August survey found that over half of smartphone users had downloaded Telegram.
On Friday afternoon, Telegram was still available in Brazil via Google Play. Brazil’s authorities temporarily shut down YouTube in 2006, and WhatsApp in 2016.
In August, Moraes ordered social media companies to remove posts containing widely-shared details from a sealed police 2018 police investigation, which Bolsonaro released as supposed proof that the voting system can be hacked.
Brazil’s Electoral Court, which oversees voting, denies the allegations. Authorities have struggled to establish contact with Telegram, which is popular with activists and dissidents for its anonymity, and the ability to set up large groups of users.
Bolsonaro has attempted to sow doubt about the integrity of the October election, intensifying his unsubstantiated claims that electronic voting machines can be rigged, raising the fear of a disputed result.
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This story was originally published March 18, 2022 7:01 PM.