A Brazilian Judge Orders Facebook off Air if It Fails to Remove a Defamatory Discussion

On October 2, 2013, Judge Bonvicino of the Civil Court of São Paulo granted an injunction to shut down Facebook in Brazil if a discussion is not removed. The allegedly defamatory post regarded some trivial quarrel between a well-known TV presenter and her neighbor, apparently over the TV presenter’s dog trespassing into the neighboring property.

However, Judge Bonvicino has taken the case very seriously.  The named Defendant, Facebook Brazil, initially argued it was not responsible for managing the content and infrastructure of the site. The social network qualified this initial statement by noting that “[the task of managing content and infrastructure] is the responsibility of two other distinct and autonomous companies, called Facebook Inc and Facebook Ireland Ltd, located in the United States and Ireland respectively.”

The Court of São Paulo was not pleased. Judge Bonvicino stated that Facebook's reply was an “outrageous disregard” of Brazilian sovereignty, which is “aggravated by the notorious spying activities of the US government.” The Judge also noted that “Facebook is not a sovereign country superior to Brazil.” Hence, the Court concluded that if Facebook wants to operate in Brazil, it must be subject to the Brazilian laws, regardless of where the parent companies are incorporated.

The judge granted Facebook 48 hours to remove the discussion. If Facebook did not comply, the judge ordered the Brazilian telecoms to block all Facebook IP domains and redirect them to a courtesy page displaying the court order.

Facebook has complied and the crisis is over for now. However, Brazilian courts ought to be careful in threatening to shut down entire platforms over individual disputes. Tainted by nationalistic bias, these decisions may overlook the fact that millions of Brazilian users, businesses, and institutions, including the Tribunal of São Paulo, are using those platforms daily.

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