Brazil orders Google to stop campaign against speech law

Brazil’s Justice Ministry ordered Google on Tuesday to stop running what it called a propaganda campaign against Brazilian legislation aimed at curbing misinformation, or face fines of around $200,000 an hour.

Later on Tuesday, the company removed an article that the ministry had labeled as propaganda, but it was not immediately clear if the big tech giant was fully complying with the agency’s order.

The legislation, strongly contested by big tech companies including Google, would set fines and deadlines for removing misinformation and hate speech from social media and messaging apps, and require tech companies to file transparency reports.

The government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva says regulating online speech is essential following a recent wave of fatal attacks on schools that officials say was motivated by hate speech and social media forums. The bill was sent to the lower house on Friday and may be voted on this week.

On Sunday, Google posted a message on its home page arguing that the bill “could increase confusion about what is true or false in Brazil” and should be improved. The message redirected to an article written by the search engine’s public policy department listing the arguments against the bill.

Brazil’s Ministry of Justice accused Google of promoting a covert editorial position and ordered the company to promote content that goes against its position. The agency also determined that Google must clearly state that its position is propaganda and must be transparent about any interference in its search engine to links related to the bill.

The agency said the company would be fined 1 million reais, or about $200,000, per hour if it did not comply with the order. Google’s message on its home page and the article were removed Tuesday after the order was published.

Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes also ordered the heads of Google, Meta, Spotify and Brasil Paralelo, a far-right news and entertainment platform, to give statements to police about why they authorized what could amount to to spread misinformation about the bill and the abuse. of economic power.

De Moraes cited a study by the Internet and Social Media Studies Laboratory of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), which argued that these companies advertised and posted ads against the bill “in an opaque manner and ignoring their own terms of use. .”

Google said in a statement that it was committed to communicating its concerns about the bill “in a public and transparent manner” and denied manually altering search results to favor its position.

Brazilian lawmakers last week approved a request to speed up the bill’s approval process in the House. Analysts and big tech companies criticized the move, arguing that further discussion was necessary.

The bill dates from 2020, when it was approved by the Senate under Lula’s predecessor, far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro, but has since undergone substantial modifications and become much broader. If approved by the House, the bill will return to the Senate for a final vote.

Last week, a judge temporarily suspended Telegram after the messaging app refused to send information about profiles spreading Nazi speech. A few days later, another decision annulled the suspension, although the daily fine of 1 million reais for non-compliance was maintained. Telegram founder and CEO Pavel Durov said in a statement that the company will appeal and that compliance is “technologically impossible.”

Hughes reported from Rio de Janeiro.

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