Telegram has said a Brazilian bill aimed at stemming disinformation online constitutes an 'attack' on democracy

Sao Paulo (AFP) - Messaging app Telegram warned Tuesday that “democracy is under attack in Brazil,” the latest salvo by tech companies opposed to a bill seeking to stem disinformation online.

“Brazil is about to pass a law that will end free speech,” the company said in a message sent to users on Bill 2630, which has passed the Senate and is awaiting a vote in the lower house of Congress.

It claimed the bill “gives the government censorship powers without prior judicial oversight,” calling it “one of the most dangerous pieces of legislation ever considered in Brazil.”

Telegram’s statement came a week after President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s government accused Google of “deceitful and abusive propaganda” against the bill.

The US tech giant had displayed a prominent message on its Brazilian homepage warning the legislation could “make your internet worse.”

Google removed the message the same day the National Consumer Protection Bureau ordered it to also give space to opposing views or face a fine of one million reais ($200,000) an hour.

Telegram has also faced legal problems in Brazil.

Last month, a court ruled to suspend the app for refusing to give the authorities requested data on neo-Nazi groups allegedly fueling school violence via the platform.

The ruling was overturned on appeal two days later.

In March 2022, a Supreme Court justice threatened to block Telegram in Brazil for refusal to respect court orders, notably one to suspend the account of blogger Allan dos Santos, a prominent backer of far-right ex-president Jair Bolsonaro who is under investigation for spreading disinformation.

Dubbed the “fake news bill” by the media and the “censorship bill” by opponents, the Brazilian legislation was introduced three years ago.

It shot to prominence after Bolsonaro supporters ran riot in Brasilia on January 8, allegedly egged on by social media disinformation claiming their candidate’s 2022 election loss to Lula was fraudulent.