RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s Congress, Supreme Court, election officials and federal police have been trying for months to get a response from Telegram, the burgeoning messaging app. As it turned out, all they had to do was ban it.
On Friday, Brazil’s Supreme Court blocked Telegram in the country because the company behind the app ignored court orders.
Then, suddenly, Telegram’s CEO responded — with a pedestrian excuse: his company had missed the court’s emails. “I apologize to the Brazilian Supreme Court for our negligence,” said the director, Pavel Durov.
Telegram worked quickly over the weekend to comply with the court’s orders, including removing classified information shared by President Jair Bolsonaro’s account and deleting the accounts of a prominent Bolsonaro supporter accused of misrepresenting to disseminate information.
That action satisfied the court. Late Sunday, the court lifted the ban on Telegram.
But Telegram also went further to avoid a ban. The app has made several other changes in Brazil to combat misinformation about its app, which has worried Brazilian officials ahead of the October presidential election. Telegram said one of the changes would be to promote verified information in Brazil and flag fake posts as inaccurate, while employees would also track Brazil’s 100 most popular channels, which account for 95 percent of the country’s public message views. .
“The app has always been willing to cooperate with the authorities. What happened was a communication misunderstanding,” said Alan Thomaz, Telegram’s lawyer in Brazil, who was appointed on Sunday as part of Telegram’s response to the court.
The turnaround of the court was so rapid that the ban never went into effect. While the court’s order was valid for two days, the ban had given Internet service providers, wireless companies, and Apple and Google five days to comply.
The ban was imposed and lifted by Alexandre de Moraes, a Supreme Court judge who has emerged as a prominent opponent of Bolsonaro. He leads several investigations into the president and his allies. Bolsonaro criticized the ban, calling it “unacceptable”, and his government quickly challenged it in court.
Telegram has long taken a hands-off approach to content on its apps, making it popular with right-wing users who complain that their views are censored on more mainstream social networks. That has led Telegram to become a major broadcasting channel for Bolsonaro, who has amassed nearly 1.1 million followers on the app. His biggest competitor in the 2020 presidential race, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has less than 50,000.
Brazil is a key market for Telegram and the loss of access to the country would have been a major blow to a company that is gaining popularity. Since 2014, Telegram has been downloaded nearly 85 million times in Brazil, including 29 percent last year, according to Sensor Tower, an app data company.