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Brazil Rebrands Internet Censorship Amid Pushback

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Brazil has caused quite a stir lately when the country’s ongoing internet censorship policies and actions hit the international limelight, thanks to a clash between Superior Electoral Court President Alexandre de Moraes, a long-time champion of those policies, and X owner Elon Musk.

But Musk is by no means the only one pushing back against censorship demands – many in Brazil do as well, so the authorities there recently decided to go into damage control mode and attempt to “rebrand” censorship legislation.

Up until this point, the general policy was known (and according to the local press, unpopular) as, regulation of social networks, but now, it is to be referred to as – laws meant to usher in “free, responsible, and transparent internet.”

This specifically refers to Congressional Bill 2630, “Law on Freedom, Responsibility and Transparency on the Internet” – which the media in Brazil like to call the Fake News Bill and Censorship Bill.

According to some of those media outlets, Arthur Pereira, president of the Chamber of Deputies, has come under pressure to proceed with Bill 2630 following the hacking last December of the X account belonging to President Luiz Inacio Lula’s wife.

However, according to the same sources, Pereira is yet to “deliver” on his promise that the law would, effectively, get expedited, but has in the meantime asked a member of the Chamber of Deputies from the Communist Party Orlando Silva (who is seen as the main protagonist behind Bill 2630) to make changes to the text, in the hope of making it “more palatable” among conservative deputies.

Meanwhile, observers like US journalist Michael Shellenberger, are exploring the “evolution” – or regression of President Lula’s policy on freedom of speech over the past decades, which now looks like an attempt to impose a wide-ranging crackdown on that freedom.

According to Shellenberger, the scope and nature of the restrictions Lula and his key allies, like Justice Moraes, are trying to push through are comparable to what was happening in Cuba immediately after the Fidel Castro-led revolution, i.e., in the early 1960s.

The efforts in Brazil now go well beyond a single bill – several new agencies capable of exercising censorship, including the ironically named “Department for the Promotion of Freedom of Expression,” have been formed over these last years.

US lawmakers are also now getting involved in the public “skirmish” between X owner Elon Musk and Brazil’s top authorities, which flared up over the latter’s censorship of accounts and content on X.

Musk on Wednesday announced that he received “an inquiry” from Congress about what he said were “actions taken in Brazil that were in violation of Brazilian law.”

In a post on his platform, Musk added that there were “hundreds, if not thousands” of such “actions.”

Signaling that the said skirmish with President of Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court and Supreme Federal Court Justice (and, critics might say, censorship enthusiast) Alexandre de Moraes might turn into something bigger, Musk concluded his post by writing, “This is getting spicy.”

Musk did not reveal where the inquiry came from, and chose not to name the committee or member of the House that had sent it. But the reference to “violations of Brazilian law” seems to concern his company’s decision not to comply with Supreme Court orders to ban a number of accounts there.

On the other hand, Musk considers these orders to be illegal in the first place.

He did, however, subsequently clarify that the accounts Brazil’s authorities slated for censorship belong to “sitting members of the Brazilian parliament and many journalists,” while X was prohibited from revealing who the orders came from (we now know, that would be Moraes), and was not told why they should be blocked.

“We could not tell them (account owners) that this was at the behest of Alexandre. We had to pretend that it was due to our rules,” Musk is purported to be saying in an audio recording published on X.

Saying that “all restrictions” would be lifted, the platform’s owner also revealed that Moraes “applied massive fines, threatened to arrest our employees and cut off access to X in Brazil.”

And, over the last couple of days, he once again went after Moraes, calling him “a dictator” in a reply to a post.

All this is happening after Musk last weekend announced the previously blocked accounts (on orders from coming from the same quarters) would be reactivated, which prompted Moraes to launch a “digital militias” investigation into Musk’s “conduct.”

All of this is likely to result in X losing all revenue in Brazil, Musk said in one of his posts, as well as in the shutting down of the company’s office in the country.

“But principles matter more than profit,” he wrote.

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