Free Speech

by Tim Cushing


Filed Under:
brazil, fake news, free speech, police



Brazilian Government Mobilizes Federal Police To Handle 'Fake News' Problem

from the as-the-US-president-admires-from-afar... dept

Hot-button topic "fake news" is going to be the downfall of the internet. All over the world, governments are trying to tackle the non-issue by introducing harmful legislation that will only result in increased direct control of the press by the governments passing these bills. "Fake news" defies definition. It could be read to encompass satire and parody. It could also cover legitimate news that deals with subject matter certain people don't like. That's pretty much how it's been defined by the party in power here: whatever Donald Trump doesn't like is deemed "fake news" by the Commander in Chief, even if the news is based on factual events and credible statements.

Allowing the government to get in the speech business is a bad idea. All "solutions" proposed by world government officials are vehicles for abuse by the state -- a way to suppress anything that doesn't align with the party in power's narrative. On a smaller scale, it also creates a handy heckler's veto for social media platforms, putting brigades a click away from shouting down stuff they don't like.

In Brazil, fake news is under attack… and in the worst way possible. Governments nudging media platforms and press agencies towards self-censorship is one thing. Handing this over to men with guns is another.

Yesterday afternoon, official Twitter account of Brazil’s Federal Police (its FBI equivalent) posted an extraordinary announcement. The bureaucratically nonchalant tone it used belied its significance. The tweet, at its core, purports to vest in the federal police and the federal government that oversees it the power to regulate, control, and outright censor political content on the internet that is assessed to be “false,” and to “punish” those who disseminate it. The new power would cover both social media posts and entire websites devoted to politics.

“In the next few days, the Federal Police will begin activities in Brasília [the nation’s capital] by a specially formed group to combat false news during the [upcoming 2018 presidential] election process,” the official police tweet stated. It added: “The measures are intended to identify and punish the authors of ‘fake news’ for or against candidates.” Top police officials told media outlets that their working group would include representatives of the judiciary’s election branch and leading prosecutors, though one of the key judicial figures involved is the highly controversial right-wing Supreme Court judge, Gilmar Mendes, who has long blurred judicial authority with his political activism.

Considering the breadth and depth of the government's corruption, this initiative has the chance to deliver instant death sentences to journalists, bloggers, and social media shitposters all over the nation. This isn't hyperbole. Violators will be arrested. And any arrest can result in dead suspects, especially when the Brazil Federal Police's itchy trigger fingers are propelled by a sense of "duty" that has promised to ignore a lack of legal authority to engage in purging of publications the government doesn't like.

Tellingly, these police officials vow that they will proceed to implement the censorship program even if no new law is enacted. They insist that no new laws are necessary by pointing to a pre-internet censorship law enacted in 1983 — during the time Brazil was ruled by a brutal military dictatorship that severely limited free expression and routinely imprisoned dissidents.

A top police official just yesterday warned that, absent a new law, they will invoke the authorities of one of the dictatorship era’s most repressive laws: the so-called Law of National Security, which contain deliberately vague passages making it a felony to “spread rumors that caused panic.”

This police official also took time to complain the penalties for violating the old law the cops will use if the new law doesn't pass were too lenient and didn't provide for enough punishment for citizens uttering unpopular opinions or statements. The law cited by the Federal Police was -- and is -- a dictator's best friend, allowing the government to control narratives and stifle dissent while claiming every bit of abuse is justified due to omnipresent national security concerns.

Nations that might be concerned with a corrupt government's crackdown on "fake news" are in no place to complain. Many governments that consider themselves far more tolerant of speech have introduced or passed laws targeting fake news in recent months, leveling the high ground they might have used to denounce the deployment of the federal police force to punish speech the Brazilian government doesn't like. France, Germany, etc. are Brazil's bedfellows. The lack of jackbooted thugs kicking down bloggers' doors doesn't do much to brighten the "free world's" tarnished halo.


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  • identicon
    Andy, 23 Jan 2018 @ 3:43am

    Fake News

    The definition of fake is false or not true, i woudl think any neutral investigatory team could easily rule over whether a story/article on the internet is fake news and block it.

    Not doing anything to resolve this is only going to give governments the power to spread lies to gain votes using the media and that must be prevented at all costs, just look at how the republicans have used fake news for so long and with the help of the Russian government taken the american presidency....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2018 @ 10:58am

      Re: Fake News

      Oh my god you're so precious. Bless your heart.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bergman (profile), 23 Jan 2018 @ 8:46pm

      Re: Fake News

      Suppose someone declared your comment to be fake news -- could you prove it wasn't?

      And with police and courts and prisons involved, could you even prove enough reasonable doubt to keep yourself out of prison?

      Doubtful.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2018 @ 10:00am

      Re: Fake News

      The definition of fake is false or not true

      It can also mean "fraudulent". Is your comment, which omits this sense of the word, therefore "fake news"? I wouldn't call a comment "news", but you didn't define that term either.

      Should intent matter? The Onion is "fake news" under your definition, while others might view it as satire.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Lord Lidl of Cheem (profile), 23 Jan 2018 @ 4:29am

    Pretty much all marketing could be classed as fake news - Don Draper's of the world beware!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 23 Jan 2018 @ 6:11am

    Amusing. So how are they going to tackle the problem in Whatsapp (Brazil is one of the countries with broadest adoption of the tool in the world)? Because it is where the bulk of the fake news is spreading. And it's encrypted and out of reach.

    Considering we are walking fast towards a totalitarian state you can place this decision firmly into the authoritarian/censorship field.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 23 Jan 2018 @ 6:21am

    Mr. Trump please pay attention!

    Considering the breadth and depth of the government's corruption, this initiative has the chance to deliver instant death sentences to journalists, bloggers, and social media shitposters all over the nation. This isn't hyperbole. Violators will be arrested. And any arrest can result in dead suspects, especially when the Brazil Federal Police's itchy trigger fingers are propelled by a sense of "duty" that has promised to ignore a lack of legal authority to engage in purging of publications the government doesn't like.

    Dear Mr. Trump,

    This is a model you should pay attention to.

    Remember what you said to police: don't be too nice to them when you're shoving them into a police car. It's good to rough them up a bit, because they are obviously guilty. Feel free to inflict extra-judicial punishment.

    Also remember, then pen is a much mightier weapon, and therefore a much bigger threat to the state, than actual weapons.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 23 Jan 2018 @ 7:30am

    Hey Brazil...

    Would you please start with the fake news that Trump is our president?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2018 @ 8:42am

    Looks to be just another bludgeon intended for use in the war against free speech.

    They tell me that I have nothing to fear if I have nothing to hide, why are they fearful of public free speech ... could it be they have things to hide?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 23 Jan 2018 @ 6:41pm

    Disturbing eagerness

    A top police official just yesterday warned that, absent a new law, they will invoke the authorities of one of the dictatorship era’s most repressive laws: the so-called Law of National Security, which contain deliberately vague passages making it a felony to “spread rumors that caused panic.”

    That they are apparently so quick to apply one of the tools of a repressive dictator is just all sorts of disturbing, as well as revealing the kind of mindset they have, to the point that I can't help but suspect that they would have been quite happy to have been around when that law was originally passed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2018 @ 1:25pm

    Watchout. The internet police is coming.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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