Brazil Diary: Brasilia Tries Again to Regulate Tech, Get Platforms to Pay for News

Anya Schiffrin / Sep 29, 2023

Anya Schiffrin is the director of the media and technology specialization at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

Earlier this month I spent a week in Brazil engaged in discussions about tech regulation. The trip reinforced my feeling that Brazil’s version of January 6th – the Jan. 8 attacks on the Supreme Federal Court, Presidential Palace and the National Congress in the capital Brasilia –has dramatically shifted sentiment in favor of tech regulation.

Indeed, nearly every public event I attended began with comments about January 8th and the need to regulate the large social media platforms to prevent the spread of false information about elections and political polarization. The Federal Supreme Court in Brasilia now hosts a regular seminar on democracy and the internet. The day I spoke there happened to be the day the trial of the Jan 8th rioters began.

The Supreme Court meeting began with remarks by Federal Supreme Court Justice Luís Roberto Barroso, which summed up the general mood:

Disinformation, and hate speech circulated on social media, has become a threat to journalism and human rights, an instrument for political polarization and violence. The time when we thought the internet could be free and not regulated is in the past. Some kind of regulation is necessary, but what kind is being debated in Brazil and around the world.”

Just as in the US, debates about disinformation and freedom of speech in Brazil reflect the political polarization of the country. Regulations addressing tech accountability and also compensation for news publishers have not yet been passed. In spring 2023, the so-called “fake news law” was withdrawn by rapporteur Oswaldo Silver, who asked for more time to revise the bill. The omnibus bill had grown so big that it was decided to withdraw the bill and split it in two.

As a result, there are now two bills being considered. Bill PL 2630 is similar to the EU’s Digital Services Act, and even draws language from it. It would impose new platform responsibilities and algorithmic transparency requirements, and create new rules requiring the removal of illegal information quickly, especially during elections.

The second bill, PL2370, would require platforms to compensate publishers for the news they distribute. Left open is how exactly this would work, but one striking provision is a “must carry” provision that would bar the social media platforms from penalizing publishers by dropping news from their platforms. So far so good. Where it gets complicated is with the entry of Brazilian musicians and actors into the discussion, including famed singers Marisa Monte and Caetono Veloso. They, like many of the striking Hollywood actors and writers, want residuals for the use of past work, and this has been included in the bill.

This has muddled the politics of the bill. For instance, media powerhouse O Globo was a big supporter of platform compensation to publishers, but is now apparently moving against the bill in part because while it wants to receive payments from the platforms, it doesn’t want its broadcast arm to pay out copyright payments to actors and musicians. The company has crunched the numbers and realized it is in danger of paying out more than it takes in. Some journalists are dismayed and feel that adding singers and musicians into the mix has weakened the position of the news media.

"I was surprised when the demand of the artists was included in the Fake News Bill, which until then had a strong focus on stating how important for democracy it is to fight fake news, and how strengthening journalism is fundamental to achieve that. The inclusion of cultural production caused a change of focus that, in the end – even though I am sure this was not intended – weakened the position of journalists. This…goes against the international movement that is being formed, with many countries actively working on getting Big Tech to pay for journalism. From my point of view it was a political disaster.” – Brazilian journalist Natalia Viana, former head of the digital journalism association AJOR.

As well as getting very big, the bills have been subject to massive lobbying by Google, which ended up being investigated by the Supreme Court for the way it tinkered with search in Brazil to add warnings about the bill. As it has in many parts of the world, Google has been lobbying media outlets and trying to buy them off with payments. News outlets receiving Showcase payments from Google are also said to oppose the new platform remuneration bill as they would lose funding if it’s passed.

Around the world, Google appears to be offering both carrots and sticks to news publishers. Payments to news organizations–and to influencers online– have risen in Indonesia as the President there mulled releasing a platform remuneration decree, while in Italy, Google threatened late last year to drop Italian news from search if a remuneration law was passed, government officials said in interviews.

Still, Brazil seems ahead of the US in regulating big tech, as it’s also planning an AI bill and updating the famous Marco Civil to include some form of new intermediary liability for platforms.

Despite the wrangling, Digital Secretary Joã0 Brant says he remains confident that the content remuneration bill will pass, hopefully by the end of the year.

“In Brazil, most of the key political players are convinced about the need of a legislation defining journalism content remuneration by the platforms. The debates are around amendments on the text aiming to make it effective to foster pluralism and diversity,” he told me.

The clock is ticking- Brazil will see municipal elections in 2024, and another national cycle will begin soon after.


Anya Schiffrin
Anya Schiffrin is the director of the Technology, Media, and Communications at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and a lecturer who teaches on global media, innovation and human rights. She writes on journalism and development, investigative reporting in the global sou...