Brazilian Supreme Court judge Alexandre de Moraes has ordered the suspension of the messaging app Telegram, saying it has repeatedly refused to comply with court orders to freeze accounts spreading misinformation or comply with the country’s laws.
In response, 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 the platform seeks to improve compliance.
President Jair Bolsonaro and his supporters have increasingly relied on the platform as a form of mass communication as major tech companies such as Meta, Google, and Twitter comply with Supreme Court orders to take down offending accounts over allegations of misinformation.
Moraes’ decision represents the latest chapter in the battle for justice with Bolsonaro and his allies. It is likely to stir debate over freedom of expression in Brazil.
Moraes is leading a series of Supreme Court investigations into Bolsonaro and his supporters for spreading false news. Bolsonaro said the court’s decision was inadmissible.
According to Moraes’ ruling, the platform repeatedly failed to ban the offending accounts and ignored court decisions. Durov blamed email problems.
“We could have done a better job,” he said. Once a reliable communication channel is established, we are able to efficiently process removal requests for public channels that are illegal in Brazil. He also asked the court to postpone its ruling.
Telegram is popular with far-right groups
A Brazilian Supreme Court judge has given telecom regulator Anatel 24 hours to implement the suspension. The suspension continues until the platform complies with the pending injunctions, with the payment of a series of fines and the presentation of a representative of the platform in the country before the court.
Moraes also ordered Google and Apple to help block users across their platforms from being able to use Telegram in Brazil.
Telecom regulator Anatel said it referred the judicial decision to the entities operating in the regulated sector. Justice Minister Anderson Torres criticized Moraes’ unilateral decision, which he said harmed millions of Brazilians.
Torres said he has instructed his department to study a solution to restore people’s right to use any social network they wish.
Telegram has proven popular with far-right groups around the world. Police in Germany blocked 64 Telegram channels in February.
The app has been blamed for fueling a dangerous subculture of anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists who share news about the supposed dangers and orchestrate protests that have spilled into violence.
Bolsonaro also in January accused the country’s top authorities of cowardice for discussing banning the app amid fears it was being used to spread false news.