Lawmaker Orlando Silva of the Communist Party of Brazil submitted the final version of an anti-“fake news” bill to Congress Thursday, aimed at censoring alleged disinformation.
The bill – titled the “Brazilian Law on Freedom, Responsibility and Transparency on the Internet” and given “urgent” status by the Congress for expedited approval – aims to regulate social media platforms by stopping and punishing the spread of online content deemed “false.”
Conclui meu relatório para a Lei Brasileira de Liberdade, Responsabilidade e Transparência na Internet.
Resta um tema: qual instituição fiscalizará a lei, e eventualmente aplicará sanções.
Vou fazer as últimas consultas e publicamos o parecer final.
— Orlando Silva (@orlandosilva) April 27, 2023
Leftist Justice Minister Flavio Dino has made the regulation of social media a high priority for his office, stating in March Brazil had a dire need for the government eradication of alleged “hate speech.”
The bill presented on Thursday would require social media platforms to establish legal entities in Brazil for consistent contact with the government. It would also create legal punishments for social media sites that do not act to immediately remove content the government deems in “violation” of Brazilian law or the rights of children and teenagers, ranging from warnings to outright blocking access to the platform in Brazilian territory.
Additionally, it criminalizes the dissemination of “false” content through what is described as “automated bot accounts” and makes social media platforms liable for damages caused by paid content generated by third parties, among other provisions.
The bill also extends the parliamentary immunity that Brazilian lawmakers possess to social media.
Text pertaining to the creation of an autonomous overseeing body to regulate and oversee compliance with the bill’s provisions, with the capacity to punish non-compliance,l was removed from the final version after heavy backlash from Brazilian lawmakers.
“The response was not very good. The feeling in the House is that, with this autonomous review entity, the bill will not pass,” Silva told the Brazilian news website G1 on Thursday, adding that it is “necessary” for the bill to indicate who will oversee the implementation of the new rules.
On Tuesday, the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, the lower chamber of Congress, approved a motion to grant urgency status to the bill, which allows it to skip committee debate and go directly to a floor vote next week. If approved, the Senate will then debate and vote on the legislation.
Brazilian senator Alessandro Vieira of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party originally introduced the first draft of the bill in 2020. The new version contains changes made following suggestions from the newly minted third administration of radical leftist president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and the head of the nation’s Supreme Federal Tribunal (STF) and Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE), top judge Alexandre de Moraes.
Not all of de Moraes’s suggestions reportedly made it to the final draft as a result of the “urgent” status of the bill. The rejected suggestions, according to Silva, included provisions to fine social media platforms between $20,000 to $30,000 per hour if they failed to remove content as demanded by the Brazilian Electoral Court.
De Moraes had also proposed modifying the Brazilian Penal Code to include provisions to authorize the removal of content without the need to notify affected users, and text to punish the “dissemination or sharing of facts that are known to be untrue, or seriously out of context, that affect the integrity of the electoral process.”
Silva told Brazilian news website Poder360 on Thursday that he is “optimistic” the bill will pass.
“I believe we will be able to approve the text,” Silva said. “The report dialogues with everything I have heard in the last few days. The effort is to guarantee the freedom of expression, but also to guarantee the accountability of the digital platforms.”
The communist lawmaker asserted that “Brazil will be able to help in the global debate on media regulation if the law is approved at this time.”
Silva defended the expansion of parliamentary immunity online during an interview with the Brazilian news channel GloboNews on Thursday evening, arguing that social media is a “tribune” for the lawmakers to express themselves.
“Parliamentary immunity is the right of the parliamentarian to speak, defend his ideas, and vote independently, free from any government pressure,” Silva said. “It is an achievement of democracies. It is a right of minorities all over the world and I defend its extension to social networks, because social networks have become a tribune for today’s parliamentarians.”
The provision would appear to have an effect on cases such as that of conservative former lawmaker Daniel Silveira, arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison in 2022 for disparaging the nation’s top court in a Youtube video (then-President Jair Bolsonaro pardoned him). In March, however, Silva rejected the idea that parliamentary immunity would have protected Silveira.
Silva told the Brazilian outlet Metrópoles that Silveira’s case “is the demonstration that material parliamentary immunity, already provided in the Federal Constitution, does not protect crime or criminal.”
The immunity, explained Silva, “works to guarantee freedom of expression, opinion and votes. And those who commit crimes typified in the law will not be protected by it, on the contrary, they will answer for their actions in court. As in his [Silveira’s] case.”
Brazil, under STF and STE minister Alexandre de Moraes, has seen an extensive list of censorship actions as part of the top Justice’s “crusade” against “fake news,” ranging from police raids against lawmakers, comedians, content creators, and regular citizens supportive of former President Jair Bolsonaro.
De Moraes’ censorship intensified during Brazil’s 2022 presidential campaign, ordering the censoring of campaign material that referred to Lula as “corrupt” or “a thief.”
Lula da Silva, now serving his third presidential term, had been sentenced to serve 25 years in prison after being found guilty on multiple appeals of taking bribes during his previous presidential terms. Brazil’s top court overturned the conviction in 2021, which allowed Lula to run for president a third time.
De Moraes did not similarly censor the Lula campaign, or Lula himself, when he accused Bolsonaro of “pedophile behavior.”
In past opportunities, the Brazilian “anti-fake news crusader” has demanded that social media platforms block access to specific accounts while demanding that said platforms hand over the accounts’ corresponding full registration data and information under strict deadlines, lest they be subject to hefty daily fines.
Shortly after the 2022 presidential runoff election, where Lula da Silva narrowly defeated Jair Bolsonaro, de Moraes ordered messaging platforms Whatsapp and Telegram to disband conservative chat groups in an effort to “demobilize” the nationwide wave of protests that had erupted.
A Brazilian court ordered this week the suspension of Telegram in the country after the platform allegedly failed to provide Brazil’s Federal police with information pertaining to “neo-nazi” chat groups. The app was removed from Google and Apple’s app stores in Brazil and remains inaccessible without the use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or similar censorship-circumvention tools.
Telegram’s CEO Pavel Durov responded on Thursday by stating that the company would appeal the court’s ruling, asserting that it was “technologically impossible” to comply with the request due to the platform’s end-to-end encryption features. The messaging application had been temporarily suspended in 2022 by order of de Moraes, who ruled that the platform had refused to freeze accounts spreading “disinformation.”
Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.