Brazil’s ‘fake news’ law sparks outrage from tech giants

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By Webdesk

Brazil’s Congress is considering a bill that would shift the burden to internet companies to report illegal content on their sites, a controversial initiative that President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s government has launched against big tech companies like Google.

On Tuesday, Google had to remove a link on its homepage in Brazil that argued against Bill 2630, also known as the Fake News Law.

The link claimed the bill would create public confusion and called on users to contact their congressional representatives to speak out against the legislation.

Brazil’s proposal, which would impose sanctions on tech companies that fail to crack down on fake news and other illegal material on their platforms, would be one of the toughest laws for social media and other content-hosting websites.

It has been compared to the European Union’s Digital Services Act, which was passed last year to regulate major tech companies and create standards for transparency and content moderation.

Protesters outside Brazil's Congress place signs and backpacks on the grass to represent children killed in school bombings
Protesters put up signs that read: ‘Protect our children. Regulate the social networks,” outside Brazil’s Congress considering a bill to regulate internet platforms [File: Eraldo Peres/AP Photo]

But companies like Google and Facebook have warned that Brazil’s Bill 2630 could be used for censorship and jeopardize the availability of free content services.

In a statement to CNN Brasil on Tuesday, Google also argued that the bill poses “risks” to “the people who use our platforms and also to the various participants in the digital ecosystem.”

It said the bill had “been subject to significant changes in recent weeks”, leading to a lack of awareness about its content.

Google’s message on its homepage prompted a fierce response from Justice Minister Flavio Dino, who accused the tech giant of trying to suppress the debate.

He demanded that the link be removed within two hours or Google would be fined one million Brazilian reais, or $198,000, for every hour the posts remained online. “What is this? An editorial? This is not a media or advertising company,” said Dino.

Google responded by removing the link within minutes, drawing applause from Dino on Twitter. “Google has removed the encrypted and illegal ads from its homepage,” he wrote. “LAW must triumph over the digital Wild West.”

He has previously called for an investigation into whether tech companies engaged in “abuse” in their campaign against the law.

A Google sign on a window at its headquarters in Mountain View, California
Google has been campaigning against Brazil’s bill to impose stricter rules on internet platforms [File: Jose Sanchez/AP Photo]

Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes later on Tuesday issued an order requiring Brazil’s leaders of major tech companies to testify before federal police about potential misinformation being spread about the bill.

They included the heads of Google, the social media giant Meta, the music streamer Spotify and Brasil Paralelo, a conservative content website.

Bill’s fate is unclear

The debate in Brazil comes as the South American nation continues to grapple with baseless claims about the legitimacy of its electoral system, particularly in the wake of former far-right president Jair Bolsonaro’s loss in elections last year.

Bolsonaro had falsely claimed for months that Brazil’s electronic voting system was vulnerable to fraud, a claim that quickly spread among his supporters on social media.

Critics also say the former army captain’s rhetoric led to a January 8 riot in the capital, Brasilia, when a mob of pro-Bolsonaro protesters stormed Brazil’s Supreme Court, Congress and presidential palace in a bid to overturn October’s election results. to make.

The fake news bill had been sped up in the lower house of Congress and was scheduled to be voted on later Tuesday. However, its fate is uncertain due to opposition from conservative and evangelical lawmakers who have sided with big tech companies against the government and its allies.

Representative Orlando Silva, an author of Bill 2630 and a member of Brazil’s Communist Party, told the Reuters news agency that the proposed legislation would help protect against misinformation that could negatively affect Brazilian politics.

The country has also suffered a series of deadly attacks on schools, with critics pointing to social media’s influence on the violence.

In late March, a 13-year-old student stabbed a teacher to death in Sao Paulo after reportedly being inspired by an earlier school shooting in 2019. Then, in early April, a man attacked a daycare center with an axe, killing four young children came to life. children.

“Fake news led to the storming of government buildings on January 8 and created an atmosphere of violence in our schools,” Silva told Reuters.

The debate over the draft law comes after a Brazilian appeals court on Saturday lifted a suspension against messaging service Telegram after it was accused of failing to comply with a request to hand over information about extremists and neo-Nazis on the platform.

However, the court upheld a fine against Telegram for failing to comply with the information request.

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