Crying teenagers, desperate mothers, impatience, despair, rage, destroyed relationships, suicides.
All of that because a court in Brazil ordered that WhatsApp should be blocked for 48 hours. So people actually had to send e-mails to each other, to talk on the phone, or, heaven forbid, to talk in person instead of sending messages with lots of yellow faces and LOLs.
But then it got worse: Most people on the internet, and some media even, blamed competing telephone operators for the ban. Others blamed President Dilma Rousseff, others blamed Congress, and so on. “Censorship”, “human rights”, “freedom”, “net neutrality”, “dictatorship” and other big words were thrown around. The left blamed the right, the right blamed the left, some crazies called for a military coup, silly comparisons with Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea popped up.
All of this was wrong, unfounded, and often outright manipulative. What had really happened? In a criminal investigation, a Brazilian court had asked WhatsApp to turn over transcripts of conversations between suspects. WhatsApp had refused. The court passed an order on 23 July 2015, ordering WhatsApp to comply. On 7 August 2015, the company was informed again of what would happen if they refused to comply. WhatsApp apparently reacted like the people who think that nothing happens to them if they don’t open the mail from the court or the bailiff. After waiting more than another four months, the court reacted with its decision.
Legally, that decision seems acceptable. In any case, it’s no violation of anyone’s freedom of speech because you can still say and write what you want in person, over the phone, in writing and indeed over hundreds of other internet applications. It was funny to see all those highly agitated people getting all hyped up about “internet censorship”, not noticing the irony that they could still write, read and publish whatever they wanted. I also didn’t understand how anyone thought that this was a ban of WhatsApp as a business model. If so, why would it have been limited to 48 hours?
Maybe non-lawyers should generally exercise caution when commenting on court rulings, but many commentators didn’t even live up to the lower standards of logical thinking. The main benefit of the decision was to see who just speculates, makes up stuff, agitates or is outright dumb (96.2 %) and who is interested in the facts and in a genuine debate (3.8 %). Because this effect was achieved within a few hours, another judge lifted the ban before the 48 hours had elapsed.
But by then, Brazilians, the majority of whom apparently understand more about technology than about law or politics, had already found an alternative.
The telegram? Yes, the good old telegram! Because in 1890, the Brazilian government had the foresight to establish telegraph lines across the whole country, all the way into the Amazon rainforest and to Bolivia and Peru. This effort was led by Cândido Rondon, who as a positivist believed that technological progress would unite the country. This went so far that he took a gramophone with him to play the Brazilian national anthem to indigenous tribes, who often came in contact with the Brazilian state for the first time.
Throughout his life, Rondon laid more than 4,000 miles of telegraph lines, most of them in hitherto inaccessible areas. When his work was completed after 24 years, the radio had been invented, putting the telegraph lines largely out of business before they could barely start operating. Long ridiculed for his efforts as the Don Quixote of positivism, this week finally brought vindication for Rondon.