Brazil News and Views

What’s Up with WhatsApp?


Yesterday a judge here in Brazil imposed a 48-hour ban on WhatsApp, a popular social media platform here in Brazil.* While lesser known in the US, it is a national phenomenon here in Brazil. Businesses depend on it for communication with customers and divulgation of new products. Individuals use it extensively to communicate with others. Our own Ebenézer congregation has two open WhatsApp groups (one for prayer requests, and one for fellowship) and one closed group (for private conversation among pastor and deacons).

Many reasons have been given for the order to shut down WhatsApp, but the real one, unless I miss my guess, is the one that nobody is saying: the Brazilian telecom businesses are upset at the competition. The same thing is happening in Rio and São Paulo as Brazilian taxi drivers lobby against Uber.

Many have asked me why Brazil’s progress always seems to be impeded, why she doesn’t advance as many predicted she would based on her size, natural resources, and geographic location. The answer is, of course, complex, but one of the reasons is staring us right in the face now every time we try to open up WhatsApp on our cell phones. Innovation and enterprise are penalized by ingrained protectionism and cronyism. It’s like a page right out of Atlas Shrugged.

And Brazilians who have been conditioned to expect and accept shoddy service will continue to do so in the name of fairness. In my humble opinion, only when a judge who proposes such an absurd thing as a 48-hour ban on WhatsApp gets laughed out of the country will Brazil take the long-sought-after steps toward real progress.

*Before this article went to press, a higher court had reinstated WhatsApp. Apparently at least one judge was annoyed at not being able to access his groups.

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