By Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA (Reuters) – Meta Platforms Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google defended before the Supreme Court on Tuesday a Brazilian law that holds Internet platforms are not responsible for content posted by users unless they are subject to a court order.
If upheld, their appeals could establish jurisprudence that will apply to future cases concerning the responsibility for Internet content, at a time when social media companies are under pressure in Brazil due to a surge in the spread of political disinformation.
Rodrigo Ruf, lawyer for Meta unit Facebook Servi os online do Brasil Ltda, defended the constitutionality of an article in the 2014 law governing regulation of the Internet in Brazil that says platforms are only responsible for content of their users if they fail to comply with a court order to remove it.
The appeal by Meta to the top court refers to a 2017 lawsuit by a Brazilian woman who wanted Facebook to remove a profile and sued the company for compensation.
“We defend the constitutionality of article 19. It’s a balanced solution,” Ruf said in a public hearing held by two Supreme Court judges hearing the Meta and Google appeals, and attended by Justice Minister Flavio Dino.
At stake is the future of the article. According to Ruf, declaring it unconstitutional would bring a big increase in the removal of subjective content, including critical content that is important for democratic public debate.
The fiercely fought 2022 presidential election, narrowly won by leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was awash in a wave of misinformation that mobilized supporters of right-wing loser Jair Bolsonaro to invade government buildings in riots on Jan. 8 that aimed to overturn the election result.
The polarized political climate has led to calls for the regulation of the internet, a move discouraged by tech companies that rebut charges that they have not done enough to fight against undemocratic misinformation during the elections.
In partnership with Brazilian electoral authorities, Meta said it complied with hundreds of court orders, rejected 135,000 election ads and removed more than 3 million postings for violent content or inciting violence and hate speech, including posts calling for a military coup and subversion of democracy.
Google Brasil lawyer Guilherme Sanchez said the company does not wait for court orders to remove content from its platforms.
“It is a myth to assume article 19 is the reason why harmful or illegal content can be found on the internet,” he said.
In 2022 in Brazil, YouTube removed more than a million videos that violated its policies against misinformation, hate speech, violence, harassment and child safety. By contrast, in the same period Google received just 1,700 requests for the removal of content from its products.
Lawyers for Twitter Inc and Mercado Libre, the Latin American e-commerce retailer and fintech giant, were due to address the court later on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; editing by Jonathan Oatis)