The new cause célèbre of the Brazilian head of state is to push the big companies and the media of the country to practice self-censorship on the Internet in the name of the fight against fake news, or false information. Catholics and evangelicals are denouncing the rise of a totalitarianism that hides its name.
Brazil is the third largest social media consumer in the world, well after India and Indonesia. However, for the past three years, a controversial bill – called the Fake News Bill – has been making its way little by little through the corridors of Congress.
The goal? To regulate – to censor, say opponents – social media platforms, in the same way as television and radio, by the good old principle that mastering information means wielding greater power.
First introduced in 2020, the fake news bill is unanimously supported by the political allies of the current president, Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva.
And fiercely denounced, as it should be, by supporters of the former conservative president, Jair Bolsonaro.
At the beginning of May 2023, several million Brazilians received an SMS from the Telegram messaging application, claiming that Brazil was about to pass a law that “would put an end to freedom of expression.”
Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes immediately threatened to take the Telegram offline for 72 hours if the encrypted messenger did not delete the message: the platform eventually complied. A sign of the passionate debate that has now taken hold in Brazil.
A debate that even reveals the fractures existing within the Catholic Church, a real institution in the country. Several associations that can be little suspected of traditionalism have published a letter to support the socialist power in its fight against false information. A letter was co-signed by a commission dependent on the Brazilian Conference of Bishops.
Conversely, more conservative Catholics and evangelical Protestants worry: “In the name of the fight against misinformation, many opinions that defend conservative values have been labeled as ‘fake news,’” they warn.
According to them, the future law could function as “an instrument of censorship,” if the notion of “hate speech” were to extend to facts of morality condemned by Christianity “such as abortion or other sins against nature.”
Already postponed several times, the Fake News Bill is struggling to succeed, but its promoters intend to impose it before the start of the southern winter.