Brazilian Supreme Court justice defends social media regulation

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Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes on Tuesday spoke in favor of more regulation for social media in Brazil. “I am absolutely convinced that [the need for] discipline for social media is urgent,” Justice Mendes said at a seminar organized by the Solicitor General’s Office.

“It is fundamental that platforms be held legally accountable for their actions or for their omissions,” he added. He believes that the defense of democracy should be added to the responsibilities of social media platforms.

Justice Mendes defended the decision by the administration of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to have the Solicitor General’s Office create an office to promote the “defense of democracy.” One of its objectives is to file lawsuits to allegedly “fight disinformation on public policies.” Opposition lawmakers have criticized the body, as they understand that it is not up to the government to define what constitutes disinformation.

Justice Mendes said on Tuesday that a lot of people today receive information exclusively from social media and thus live in a “bubble.”

“This is a big problem for democracy itself,” he added. In a recent statement addressing the January 8 riots, Meta — the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp — says it is not to blame for the spread of disinformation on social media before the January 8 riots

Justice Mendes referred to the demonstrators who last year called for military intervention outside Army barracks as “zombies.” On January 8, thousands of them left a camp near the Army headquarters in Brasília and stormed the buildings housing all three branches of government — including the Supreme Court. 

Justice Mendes said that the January 8 attacks opened a “window of opportunity” to discuss the need to change legislation on social media.

The internet in Brazil is chiefly regulated by the 2014 Civil Rights Framework for the Internet, drafted before social media had the influence it currently holds.

A piece of legislation targeting online disinformation, known as the “Fake News Bill,” was approved by the Senate in June 2020 but has since stalled in the House, where it faced resistance from pro-Bolsonaro lawmakers. The former president and his camp defend a radical definition of the principle of freedom of speech and oppose any content moderation on social media. The bill was also publicly opposed by Big Tech companies operating in Brazil, such as Facebook and Google.

In Brazil, it is common for Supreme Court justices to participate in lectures, give interviews, and speak about upcoming legislation — despite this not being an official part of their role.

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