Bolsonaro accuses Brazil electoral court of 'cowardice' for possible Telegram shut out

Telegram is the main social media channel that Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro uses to communicate with his supporters. PHOTO: REUTERS

BRASILIA (REUTERS) - Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday (Jan 27) accused the country's top electoral authority of "cowardice" for considering whether to ban the messaging app Telegram, the main social media channel he uses to communicate with his supporters.

Brazil's Superior Electoral Court (TSE) is considering banning Telegram during the run-up to October elections because it has not responded to requests to help combat the spread of misinformation.

"It's cowardice what they are trying to do," Mr Bolsonaro told supporters when asked about the possible ban on Telegram.

"We are dealing with it," he said, giving no details.

Social media platforms were key to Mr Bolsonaro's election in 2018 on a wave of conservative sentiment in the country, and he continues to actively use Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook, where he does a weekly live webcast to supporters.

But he and his sons have increasingly turned to Telegram, because the app, started in Russia and now headquartered in Dubai, does not limit the size of groups, as WhatsApp does, nor does it prevent bulk messaging.

There is also no way to control the dissemination of fake news and hate messages, unlike other networks that are cooperating with Brazilian authorities.

Even though Telegram is the second-most popular messaging service in Brazil, it has no representative office in the South American country.

The head of the TSE electoral court, Luis Roberto Barroso, has sought since mid-December to meet Telegram executive director and founder Pavel Durov to discuss ways to combat the spread of false information, but has got no reply.

The TSE has entered partnerships with almost all the main social media platforms to curb fake news and the spread of conspiracy theories about the legitimacy of Brazil's electoral system, Mr Barroso said last week in a statement.

Mr Bolsonaro has 1 million subscribers on Telegram which his allies also favour after other platforms removed some of their content.

Telegram did not respond to a request for comment.

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