In a letter to the app’s CEO, Barroso asks Telegram to cooperate in the fight against disinformation

BRASÍLIA – Less than a year before the 2022 elections, the President of the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE), Luís Roberto Barroso, is seeking Telegram’s cooperation in the fight against disinformation. Barroso claims that the messaging app is spreading false information about the electoral system without any control.

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Currently, TSE already has partnerships with several companies, including Whatsapp, Telegram’s main competitor, as well as Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin and Tiktok.

Last week, the president of the TSE sent a letter to Telegram founder and CEO Pavel Durov, asking for a meeting to discuss possible forms of cooperation between the app and the court.

« A lot of conspiracy theories and false information about the electoral system are spread unchecked via Telegram, » Barroso said.

As the company does not have an office in Brazil, Barroso suggested that the meeting should take place with another representative of the platform. Aside from having no legal representation in the country, Telegram also has no content moderation and has remained indifferent to attempts to contact the judiciary.

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In the letter, the minister emphasizes that the TSE is not only responsible for the final decision in electoral disputes, but also for organizing and conducting elections in Brazil. He further notes that one of the most important tools to solve the problem of disinformation has been « open and fruitful dialogue with providers of internet applications, especially social networks and messaging applications ».

« Many of these initiatives have joined the court to ensure voters have access to truthful information about the electoral process so they can exercise their voting rights in an informed and informed manner, » he said in the text.

Some features of the platform are of particular concern due to the possibility of uncontrolled use during elections, such as the possibility of groups for up to 200,000 people and channels with unlimited capacity for subscribers (on WhatsApp, groups are limited to 256 members).

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The message service goes through a boom Popularity in Brazil. It’s already installed on 53% of smartphones in the country, a rate that was just 15%, according to a 2018 survey by the MobileTime website in partnership with online research firm Opinion Box.

The platform was mainly used by President Jair Bolsonaro’s family to avoid potential punishment from digital platforms, as was the case with former US President Donald Trump.

Telegram also became an alternative for Bolsonaristas who were banned from other social networks.

After his YouTube channels and profiles on social networks like Twitter were taken offline by a court ruling, blogger Allan dos Santos on Telegram focused on publishing conspiracy theories and attacks on ministers of the Federal Court of Justice (STF).

The blogger is being investigated in the STF in the fake news investigation and also in the investigation against digital militias on suspicion of spreading attacks on democratic institutions and other crimes.

Serial illegalities

Concerns about Telegram go well beyond the election issue. As GLOBO has shown, content such as child pornography, videos of torture and executions, apologies for Nazism, illegal trafficking and a disinformation network about vaccines also circulate on the web.

Some of these topics circulate in secret groups, accessible only to those who find or receive the incoming links. Since some publications are criminal offenses, the language is encrypted.

Unlike WhatsApp, where users can’t connect to groups they’re not invited to, Telegram allows these spaces to be public as long as they’re configured to appear in the application’s search tool — which its competitor doesn’t have.

This possibility has created a digital infrastructure where secret environments are accessible to any user. For example, in groups of nude photos and pornographic videos, it is common for administrators to sell access to VIP rooms that are lined with exclusive content.

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