RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil’s Congress, Supreme Court, election officials and federal police have been trying to get a response from Telegram, the rapidly growing messaging app, for months. Turns out, all they had to do was ban it.
On Friday, Brazil’s Supreme Court blocked Telegram in the country because the company behind the app ignored a court order.
Then, all of a sudden, Telegram’s chief executive replied — with a pedestrian excuse: his company omitted the court’s email. “I apologize to the Supreme Court of Brazil for our negligence,” said the chief executive, Pavel Durov.
Telegram worked quickly over the weekend to comply with the court order, including by deleting confidential information shared by President Jair Bolsonaro’s account and deleting the account of a prominent supporter of his. Bolsonaro, who has been accused of spreading disinformation.
That action pleased the court. Late Sunday, the court lifted the ban on Telegram.
But Telegram has also gone further in an attempt to avoid being banned. The app has made several other changes in Brazil to combat misinformation on its app, which has worried Brazilian officials ahead of the October presidential election. Telegram said among those changes, they will start promoting verified information in Brazil and mark false posts as incorrect, and ask staff to monitor the 100 most popular channels in Brazil, which account for 95% of views public posts in this country.
“The application is always willing to cooperate with the authorities. What happened was a misunderstanding regarding communication,” said Alan Thomaz, a lawyer for Telegram in Brazil, who was appointed on Sunday as part of Telegram’s response to the court.
The court’s reversal was so swift that the injunction never went into effect. Although the court order took effect in two days, the ban gave internet providers, wireless companies, and Apple and Google five days to comply.
The ban was instituted and lifted by Alexandre de Moraes, a Supreme Court justice who has emerged as a prominent opponent of Mr. Bolsonaro. He is overseeing several investigations into the president and his allies. Mr Bolsonaro criticized the ban, calling it “unacceptable” and his administration quickly protested it in court.
Telegram has long maintained its approach to content on its app, which has made it popular with right-wing users who complain that their views are censored on social networks. more orthodox. That means Telegram has become an important promotional channel for Mr. Bolsonaro, who has amassed nearly 1.1 million followers on the app. His top competitor in the 2020 presidential race, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has just under 50,000 people.
Brazil is an important market for Telegram, and losing access to the country would be a huge blow to a company that is becoming famous. Since 2014, Telegram has been downloaded nearly 85 million times in Brazil, with 29% of those coming last year, according to Sensor Tower, an application data company.