Opinion, by Reut Shuker

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Recent legislation in Brazilian congress will change the Marco Civil da Internet (Lei 12.965/14) and will provide politicians with the power to control content posted about them online.

According to the new legislation users posting defamatory or offensive content will have to provide private information so that politicians or parties can force social media to remove the content if they find it offensive or defamatory.

While this legislation is promoted as means to improve transparency (on part of the users), let’s call it by its name: censorship. Is this the beginning of a new “big brother” style of supervision when it comes to online content?

In Brazil, the use of social media is widespread and online presence is definitely felt when it comes to political matters. Even as someone who has done significant research in Brazil but does not live there, even when I’m not there, I can usually tell what is going on and how the public feels about it from my friends’ comments in social media or different blogs.

This legislation is especially problematic since it bypasses any judicial order normally required to take actions against material on the web and gives more power to Brazilian politicians. Should a Congress in which half of all deputies and senators are facing charges of corruption among other crimes (as Transparencia Brasil reported in 2016), be given more control over information?

In Brazil, the ties between politicians or parties and different media outlets enable certain control over the discourse promoted in media. Already in the months preceding the World Cup and during the 2013 demonstrations there were attempts to silence criticism and prevent possible demonstrations by attempting to infiltrate Facebook accounts and monitoring other social media accounts.

Further, during the 2013 demonstrations, journalists, bloggers and common protesters that documented the protests and police brutality in a manner that contradicted the discourse promoted by mainstream media, were persecuted and harassed, arrested for no reason (some even face legal prosecution).

With these events in mind, the idea of anonymity that the Internet allows is especially attractive as means to guarantying not only freedom of speech but individual’s safety.

Of course, Brazil in not alone in its attempts to control information spread online as many other countries, motivated by fear of “fake news” and social media harassment, devised a variety of tools and adopted limitations in order to gain some control over what is being said. Nevertheless, as has been proven before, there is no control over the Internet.

For this reason, I have to express my deep skepticism regarding the feasibility of this law. In countries with far more rigid Internet regulations creative citizens find ways around different limitations.

Otherwise, as companies such as Facebook or Twitter, trying to monitor the information on their platforms, have proven, this is a complicated, pricy task.

Thus, trying to control the infinite amount of information out there will present a great challenge, or perhaps an impossible mission.

Reut Shuker | רעות שוקר
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Stone Center for Latin American Studies
Tulane University

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