Brazil justice investigates Musk for social media attacks on judge who fights disinformation

The billionaire has threatened to restore the accounts of far-right politicians and influencers blocked by the courts

Elon Musk, en junio de 2023.
Elon Musk, in June 2023.Gonzalo Fuentes (Reuters)

Elon Musk, the owner of X (formerly Twitter), will be investigated in Brazil for possible crimes of obstruction of justice and incitement to crime, following a decision by the judge of the Federal Supreme Court Alexandre de Moraes, who in recent years led the battle against disinformation on the internet and became the number one enemy of followers of former far-right president Jair Bolsonaro.

The scuffle between the two men began when Musk, out of the blue, published a comment asking “why he is demanding so much censorship in Brazil.” This was followed by other remarks in which he threatened to restore the accounts of several far right leaders blocked by the Brazilian justice system in recent years for attacking institutions and the democratic system. Musk stated that he would do it even if it put his business at risk and forced him to shut down X in Brazil. The judge, said Musk, has blatantly and repeatedly betrayed the Brazilian people and their Constitution and he should resign or be subjected to impeachment.

The move was applauded by Bolsonaro’s circles. Taking advantage of the fact that Musk had focused on the country, many leading Brazilian right-wing politicians began to post English-language requests for international help and quick summaries of the alleged persecution to which they are being subjected in Brazil. Even Bolsonaro himself posted a video in which he appears next to the billionaire in 2022.

De Moraes’ response to the statements of the CEO of X came quickly. He ordered an investigation into the businessman’s conduct and included him as a target in the open case investigating the so-called “digital militias,” groups organized by Bolsonaro’s entourage to spread fake news and hate speech, attack opponents and judges, and question the reliability of the democratic system.

In his decision, the Brazilian Supreme Court judge had harsh words for Musk and his company: “The flagrant conduct of obstruction of Brazilian justice, incitement of crime, the public threat of disobedience of court orders and future lack of cooperation from the platform are facts that disrespect the sovereignty of Brazil,” he expressed on Sunday.

Musk’s statements provoked strong indignation in the Brazil’s leftist government, led by Lula da Silva, and by the progressive political spectrum in general. The Minister of State Law, Jorge Messias, said that Brazil has to urgently approve regulation of social networks to prevent “billionaires residing abroad” from attacking Brazilian democracy. Brazil has been trying for some time, without success, to put a stop to the anything-goes system that rules the internet, especially due to the profound impact that fake news and misinformation have had on political life in recent years.

Just a year ago, Brazilian lawmakers were about to vote on the so-called fake news bill to try to bring some order to the internet. It was proposed, for example, to hold the platforms responsible in the case of massive dissemination of fake news through bots, and they were given a period of 24 hours to eliminate content identified as illegal by the justice system. But ‘big tech’ campaigned strongly against the bill, which was never voted on. After Musk’s statements, pressure is growing for the law to return to the floor for debate.

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