Brazil Supreme Court opens investigation into Elon Musk amid disinformation row

A Brazilian Supreme Court judge has included Elon Musk as a target in an ongoing probe over the dissemination of fake news and opened a separate investigation into the tech billionaire for alleged obstruction.

In his decision, Justice noted that Mr Musk began waging a public “disinformation campaign” regarding the top court’s actions on Saturday, and that Mr Musk continued the following day — most notably with comments that his social media company X would cease to comply with the court’s orders to block certain accounts.

“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,” Mr de Moraes wrote.

Mr Musk will be investigated for alleged “intentional criminal instrumentalisation” of X as part of an inquiry into a network of people known as “digital militia” who allegedly spread defamatory fake news and threats against Supreme Court justices, according to the text of the decision.

The new investigation will look into whether Mr Musk engaged in obstruction, criminal organisation and incitement.

Mr Musk has not commented on X about the latest development as of late Sunday.

Brazil’s political right has long characterised Mr de Moraes as overstepping his bounds to clamp down on free speech and engage in political persecution.

In the digital militias investigation, lawmakers from former president Jair Bolsonaro’s circle have been imprisoned and his supporters’ homes raided.

Mr Bolsonaro himself became a target of the investigation in 2021.

Mr de Moraes’ defenders have said his decisions, although extraordinary, are legally sound and necessary to purge social media of fake news as well as extinguish threats to Brazilian democracy — notoriously underscored by the January 8th, 2023 uprising in Brazil’s capital which resembled the Janurary 6th, 2021 insurrection in the US Capitol.

On Saturday, Mr Musk — a self-declared free speech absolutist — wrote on X that the platform would lift all restrictions on blocked accounts and predicted that the move was likely to dry up revenue in Brazil and force the company to shutter its local office.

“But principles matter more than profit,” he wrote.

He later instructed users in Brazil to download a VPN to retain access if X was shut down and wrote that X would publish all of Mr de Moraes’ demands, claiming they violate Brazilian law.

“These are the most draconian demands of any country on Earth!” he later wrote.

Mr Musk had not published Mr de Moraes’ demands as of late Sunday and prominent blocked accounts remained so, indicating X had yet to act based on Musk’s previous pledges.

Mr de Moraes’ decision warned against doing so, saying each blocked account that X eventually reactivates will entail a fine of 100,000 reais per day, and that those responsible will be held legally to account for disobeying a court order.

Brazil’s constitution was drafted after the 1964-1985 military dictatorship and contains a long list of aspirational goals and prohibitions against specific crimes such as racism and, more recently, homophobia.

But freedom of speech is not absolute.


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