(LifeSiteNews) — Brazilian lawmakers are poised to vote on a controversial bill backed by Socialist President Lula da Silva that would prevent the spread of alleged misinformation and “fake news” on social media, a move that some believe is meant to stifle the country’s conservative voices.
“[If] you disclose a fact that is known to be untrue, that causes damage, and you knowingly use robots and fake news factories, this will be considered a crime with punishments including imprisonment,” the bill’s communist sponsor recently said, according to the Financial Times.
Brazil underwent a political sea change last year when Silva, 77, narrowly won a heavily–disputed race against then-incumbent president Jair Bolsonaro, who unsuccessfully challenged the contest’s results in court. Many of Bolsonaro’s populist supporters took to social media to argue that the election was stolen. The country’s top election judge, Alexandre de Moraes, censored their accounts in order to, as he said at the time, defend “democracy.” Hundreds were later arrested for storming the country’s Capitol in protest.
The so-called “Fake News Bill” was formally introduced by Communist Party Congressman Orlando Silva (no relation to the country’s president) last month. “In Brazil fake news reigns in politics,” he has claimed. “It is behind the fall in vaccinations, the surge in attacks on schools and the attempted coup. [We] need to change the regime of responsibilities of digital platforms.”
Although Brazil’s Congress has considered previous incantations of the bill over the past several years — the first being in 2020 — all have failed to gain widespread traction, with Big Tech companies like Google and Facebook, as well as free-speech advocates, apparently stifling their passage. This year’s version takes into account recommendations made not only by de Moraes but also by President Silva.
In an earlier draft of the bill, a centralized, government-run fact checking entity was supposed to be established. After much criticism, however, that measure was scrapped. Breitbart reports that the bill would require social media platforms to be in contact with the Brazilian government, and that they would be subject to punishment if they don’t more vigorously combat “hate speech” and “fake news.” It also provides legal immunity for lawmakers who post information online, a clause that is believed to have been added as a concession for conservatives who were on the fence about supporting the bill.
The bill reportedly has “substantial support” among political parties on both sides of the aisle, except the conservative bloc linked to Bolsonaro, who recently returned to Brazil after a months-long stay in Florida. The bill’s purpose “is to create limits that silence us and that can lead us to jail for expressing a political or religious opinion or defending an economic sector,” Federal Deputy Marcel Van Hattem has said, according to a local report.
Eduardo Bolsonaro, the son of the former president and a member of Brazil’s Congress, has also expressed disagreement with the proposal. The measure is being fast-tracked and is likely to pass both chambers in the coming weeks, with the expectation that the bill’s final wording will be changed substantially before approval.
Unlike his Trump-friendly predecessor, President Silva has taken a decidedly pro-China approach. Following a state visit with Chairman Xi Jinping, Bloomberg News reported that Silva is set to “accelerate plans to move [Brazil’s] economy even closer to China.” Brazil is part of the emerging BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) alliance, which seeks to establish a global economic system apart from the U.S.-European financial markets. Two weeks ago, Silva called on the U.S. to “stop encouraging war” in Ukraine. Before winning the presidency last year, Silva had been serving out a prison sentence for money laundering when the country’s Supreme Court set him free so he could run for office.