A Brazilian court on Wednesday ordered the countrywide suspension of messaging app Telegram after its parent company failed to provide data sought by authorities on neo-Nazis operating on the network, officials said.
The move came after a spate of violent school attacks, at least one of them linked to exchanges on a group with anti-Semitic leanings.
Justice Minister Flavio Dino said the court had fined Telegram a million reais (about US$198,000) per day for "not complying" with an ongoing probe into neo-Nazi activity on social networks, and ordered the "temporary suspension of [its] activities."
"There are groups called 'Anti-Semitic Front' and 'Anti-Semitic Movement' acting in those networks, and we know that this is at the core of violence against our children," the minister said in a video sent to journalists.
Earlier this month, a hatchet-wielding man killed four children between the ages of four and seven at their school, in the same week as two other, non-fatal school attacks.
Last month, a 13-year-old boy killed a teacher in a knife attack at a school in São Paulo.
In November, a 16-year-old shooter killed four people and injured more than 10 others in twin attacks on two schools in Aracruz in the southeastern state of Espirito Santo.
The G1 news site, citing police sources, reported the teenager had allegedly interacted with anti-Semitic groups on Telegram, one of far-right ex-president Jair Bolsonaro's favourite communication channels.
According to a document from the federal justice authority in Espirito Santo, in southeastern Brazil, investigators had asked Telegram for the personal data of members of two stated anti-Semitic groups on the platform.
The company handed over only data on the administrator of one of the groups, said the document, adding there was "intent by Telegram not to cooperate with the ongoing investigation."
'Epidemic' of attacks'
The government of leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva recently announced restrictions on social media in a bid to curb the "epidemic" of school attacks.
Dino, the justice minister, said two weeks ago that sites would be ordered to take steps to ban content and users "promoting or supporting attacks or violence against schools."
Social media companies will also be required to send data to police on all users sharing violent content, and to block users banned for sharing violent content from creating new profiles.
The government is working on a separate law to regulate social media activity.
In March 2022, a Supreme Court judge blocked Telegram for failing to comply with orders from authorities to remove messages found to contain disinformation in an election year.
The ban was later lifted.
Bolsonaro, who had various posts blocked on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for violating disinformation rules, had encouraged his base to join him on Telegram instead, where he had more than a million followers.
The app has been installed on some 53 percent of mobile phones in Brazil, a country of more than 200 million people.
In 2022, it was the fastest-growing platform in the South American giant, according to Brazilian authorities.