As a Brazilian living abroad and leaving hundreds on friends and family behind, I’ve never seen a bigger social media commotion from my mother nation on social media than…
the day WhatsApp stopped working in Brazil.
This Thursday (December 17), a Brazilian judge struck down a lower court ruling that ordered telecoms to block the popular messaging service for 48 hours, cutting communications for millions of users in the country. The lower court decision was ordered because WhatsApp would not hand over user information connected to a criminal case involving drug gangs in Sao Paulo. Mark Zuckerberg, who heads WhatsApp’s parent company Facebook (FB), indicated in a Facebook post that the case was related to the company’s attempt to guard customers’ data.
After 12 hours from the blockage, another judge cited the lower court’s decision “unconstitutional” and ordered the telcom’s to resume WhatsApp services: “It’s unreasonable to punish millions of users because of the lapse of one company”. By then, around 1.5 million people had joined Telegram, a similar service offered by a Russian company.
WhatsApp is the single most used app in Brazil, with about 93 million users, or 93% of the country’s internet population. It’s a particularly useful service for Brazil’s youth and poor, many who cannot afford to pay the most expensive plans on the planet.
Brazilian telcom’s have been lobbying for months to convince the government that WhatsApp’s voice service is unregulated and illegal (not entirely unlike the taxi industry’s posture on Uber), and have publicly blamed the “WhatsApp effect” for driving millions of Brazilians to abandon their cell phone lines.
It was incredible to me to see how people became dependent of a messaging app in Brazil. It was also funny to see people’s reactions on Twitter and other social media platforms.