Brazil bans Telegram in latest stage of troubled relationship with app

A year after an initial temporary block, the Brazilian justice system has again asked internet service providers (ISPs) and online app stores to cut off all access to the Telegram messaging app in the country. This is the latest development in the highly contentious relationship between Brazil’s judiciary and the tech company.

On Wednesday, April 26, a federal court ordered Telegram to be blocked, saying that the app was not cooperating sufficiently with an important ongoing investigation into neo-Nazi groups. Investigators had requested, with the approval of a judge, that Telegram provide them with data on users participating in a violently anti-Semitic chat group, suspected of plotting attacks and having played a role in an anti-Semitic attack committed by a teenager in November 2022. The young man shot and killed four people, including a 12-year-old student, at a school in Aracruz (Espirito Santo, southeast).

The court also ordered the company to pay a penalty of about €200,000 per day until it provides the requested information. For the time being, Telegram has only partially complied with the investigators’ requests, not providing, for example, the phone numbers of the administrators of two chat channels.

Major misinformation problems

Back in March 2022, during a very tense political context six months before the Brazilian presidential election, the Supreme Federal Court ordered a temporary ban on the app in the country. At that time, the court accused it of a series of serious failures in its moderation. These included its refusal to block accounts supporting President Jair Bolsonaro’s spreading of disinformation on a large scale and a lack of good faith in its cooperation with ongoing investigations, including on child pornography.

At the time, Telegram had argued that it made an honest mistake, stating that it had not responded to the court’s requests in a timely manner after an email was lost. The company reacted very quickly: Pavel Durov, the co-founder of the app created in Russia but now headquartered in Dubai, personally apologized and sent Ilya Perekopsky, one of the company’s top executives, to Brazil, to meet with Bolsonaro in June. The ban was quickly lifted, and the company committed to better moderating its platform in the country, including monitoring the main Brazilian discussion channels to detect and remove political disinformation.

Telegram’s near-total lack of moderation has gotten the company into trouble in many countries. For instance, in February 2022, the messaging app eventually deleted 64 channels at the request of the German judiciary after many months of inaction, when German MPs in turn raised the possibility of an outright Telegram ban.

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