With around ninety three million users, Whatsapp is one of the most popular ways to communicate in Brazil. The app is very useful to the youth in Brazil and the poor since it offers them free texting and calls. Other than Whatsapp, Brazilians are the second audience of social media in the world. This is not surprising considering that the country has some of the most expensive telephone rates in the world. According to research, they spend twice as much time as Americans on social media. 93 percent of these social media users use Whatsapp as well.
A Brazilian judge in San Paulo surprised the world when he ordered Whatsapp to be shut down for forty eight hours. The reason for this is that the company is not cooperating with the investigation that was prompted by the rivals of Telecom. The telecom has been trying to get Whatsapp’s texts and voice calls closed as unregulated and illegal business which led to Whatsapp being shut down for two days in the country as the court tried to sort out the matter. As if this is not enough, the Brazilian Congress has created a vast number of bills that may shut down the social web or the whole internet for that matter.
There has been a lot of buzz in the country since the new technology seemed to be taking over the old business models. The taxi industry has been scared that Uber will kick it out of business, the hotel industry has also been very worried about Airbnb and the telecommunication industry has seen its profits drop due to the use of Whatsapp. Over 10 million people in the country have dropped their cellphone plans in what is referred to as the “Whatsapp effect”.
The move by the Brazilian Congress is a reversal of what had happened in the recent past. The country had enacted “Marco Civil” as a response to revelations that were made by Edward Snowden which indicated that the US had been spying on Brazil. Marco Civil is basically the internet bill of rights. It guarantees net neutrality, privacy as well as the right to free speech. What we are seeing now is quite the opposite and most people consider it a step backwards as far as the right to privacy is considered.
The recent economic downturn in the country has led to increased opponents of measures such as the Marco Civil, most of whom dominate Brazil’s Congress. Peron with the highest power in the body is a former Telco lobbyist who is known to have been pushing for bills to dismantle the Marcos Civil and even criminalize the use of social media as a whole. One of the bills would require internet users to enter personal identification information such as their address, tax ID and phone number in order to access the internet or to use an app. That information would be held by companies such as Google and Facebook for three years. This information would then be accessible to the police through a court order.
Politicians would be allowed to censor information on the internet as they wish and they would even be allowed to remove information from the web completely. There is also another bill that would make it a crime for anyone to film, photograph or record the voice of anyone without their direct permission. This would be punishable by up to two years in jail. This would essentially remove the visual internet from existence in Brazil. Most people cannot imagine what Brazil will be like if these bills are passed.
There are plans to create a centralized database of internet users in Brazil to prevent children from accessing inappropriate content. Most people are fearing that this could also be used to stop the Brazilian youth from accessing major social sites such as Twitter and YouTube. This would have a very great effect considering that the Brazilian youth is the fastest growing and the most active internet users in the world. Their freedom of expression and right of speech is at stake here. The social media industry might also lose its largest market in the world. There are still around 100 million Brazilians who have not bordered the social media ship yet.
The anti-internet legislation looks like a direct reaction to the digital empowerment that has been growing amongst the young people and a prolonged attack on social media. Some of these proposed laws will most probably pass the congress. They will however stop at the president’s desk and hopefully the decision here will be favorable for social media. We should not forget that social media was used in order to organize protests against the world cup held in Brazil. It was also used to fight against police violence that was forced against all Black Brazilians. The country definitely needs social media.