Facebook could be taken down in Brazil on Friday if it doesn't comply with a court order to remove offensive content about a spat between neighbours.
The decision, announced by Justice Régis Rodrigues Bonvicino on Wednesday, follows a legal case between Luize Altenhofen, a minor Brazilian TV celebrity, and her neighbour Eudes Gondim, who allegedly hit her dog with a crowbar. Altenhofen is then said to have retaliated by driving into Gondim's garage and posting abusive content about him on Facebook, which seems to have attracted a fair amount of support.
Despite Gondim's claims that Altenhofen's supposed hate campaign was a threat to his safety given the concerted trolling, threats by animal activists, and publication of his personal details, Facebook Brazil refused to take the posts down, making the point that it is not responsible for the content and infrastructure management of the website.
That, according to the company, is the job of Facebook Ireland and Facebook Inc., which is based in the US.
Facebook's response caused uproar, with Bonvicino saying that the firm's stance was "an outrageous disregard to the sovereignty of Brazil" and is "compounded by notorious and official spying by the US government." He added that "the order of a judge, recorded in a legal process, is an integral part of the country's sovereignty."
If Facebook does not comply with the requirements, telecom operators Embratel, Telefonica, Vivo, Globalcross, Level 7 and Brazil Telecom will be forced to block all the Facebook.com IP domains across the Americas I, II Americas, Atlantis II, Emergia — SAM I GlobalCrossing, Global net and Unisur cabling networks tomorrow. The website will then need to display a page describing the cause for the outage.
The social networking website has said in a statement that it, "has the policy to comply with court orders to block content if it has the specification of content deemed illegal." The company did not say, however, if the pages considered offensive by the dentist will be taken down.
Regardless of what might happen tomorrow, a decision to prevent Facebook from operating based on individual claims such as this displays the lack of awareness of the country's authorities. It ignores the fact that thousands of Brazilian businesses rely on the platform and the communities within it to sell their products, to interact with their audiences, to recruit. It's more or less the same as receiving death threats over the post then demanding that the postal service be shut down — you just shoot the messenger.
This is not the first time that Brazil mimics countries such as China, Iran and North Korea, where Internet censorship is enforced.
Back in 2007, You Tube was taken down in Brazil due to another legal case featuring yet another model who got upset about a certain saucy video of her and a boyfriend at a beach in Spain. And, even though the authorities eventually came to their senses and subsequently ordered the unblocking of the service, the bad impression left by that episode clearly displayed how freedom of expression is fragile in this country. But things were supposed to evolve.
If Brazil is really going to go down the route of making foolish decisions such as this and other measures - such as creating its own internet and demanding that data is hosted locally — then other neighboring countries that are not only more enlightened but cheaper will end up eating our lunch.