Brazilian Judge Shuts Down WhatsApp

A judge in Sao Paulo has ordered WhatsApp to shut down for 48 hours, starting at 9pm Eastern tonight.

WhatsApp is the single most used app in Brazil, with about 93 million users, or 93% of the country’s internet population. It’s a particularly useful service for Brazil’s youth and poor, many who cannot afford to pay the most expensive plans on the planet.

Brazilian telco’s have been lobbying for months to convince the government that WhatsApp’s voice service is unregulated and illegal (not entirely unlike the taxi industry’s posture on Uber),  and have publicly blamed the “WhatsApp effect” for driving millions of Brazilians to abandon their cell phone lines.

A WhatsApp shut-down would be akin to taking half the country off the electricity grid because of an industry squabble over the impending threat of solar power.

It’s a particularly baffling move when you consider that Brazil is the Social Media Capital of the Universe: Brazilians are the #2 or #3 audience on every major global social platform, and on a per-user basis, Brazilians spend almost double the time on social media as Americans.

But a temporary WhatsApp shutdown is not even close to the craziest thing happening with the Brazilian internet right now.

If Brazil’s conservative Congress gets its way, they’re going to take down the entire social web as we know it, with bills circulating through the legislature to criminalize posting social media content and to allow the government to spy on its citizens.

It’s an about-face from last year, when President Dilma Rousseff approved Marco Civil, a groundbreaking Internet “Bill of Rights”, as a response to the Snowden revelations that the NSA was spying on Brazil. The landmark bill, Brazil’s first internet legislation, protects net neutrality, user privacy and freedom of speech.

Since then, Brazil’s economy has spiraled into crisis, triggered in large part by a wide-reaching corruption scandal at the state-owned Petrobras oil behemoth that is investigating heads of Brazil’s biggest construction firms, some 50 politicians who are currently in office, and even ex-President Lula.

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