What to know about Elon Musk’s ‘free speech’ feud with a Brazilian judge

SAO PAULO (AP) — Headline-grabbing billionaire Elon Musk is clashing with a Supreme Court justice in Brazil over free speech, far-right accounts and misinformation on X, the social media platform Musk purchased when it was Twitter.

Since his takeover, Musk has upended lots of Twitter’s insurance policies, gutted its employees and remodeled what individuals see on the location. As its proprietor and maybe most influential person, he’s additionally used it to strive to sway political discourse around the globe. His newest entanglement is contained in the nation of 203 million those that has the biggest inhabitants and economic system in South America.

The South Africa-born CEO of Tesla and SpaceX purchased Twitter in 2022 and declares himself a “free speech absolutist.” To his critics, it’s absolutism with a political slant. He reinstated beforehand banned accounts such because the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and former U.S. President Donald Trump, in addition to accounts belonging to neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Advertisers who halted spending on X in response to antisemitic and different hateful materials have been participating in “blackmail,” Musk has alleged.

In the United States, free speech is a constitutional proper that’s way more permissive than in lots of international locations, together with Brazil, the place Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes this month ordered an investigation into Musk over the dissemination of defamatory pretend information and one other probe over doable obstruction, incitement and felony group.


In Brazil, judges can order any web site to take away content material. Some choices are sealed from the general public.

Neither Brazilian courts nor X have disclosed the record of accounts which were ordered to cease publishing, however distinguished supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro and far-right activists not seem on the platform.

Some belong to a community often called “digital militias.” They have been focused by a five-year investigation overseen by de Moraes, initially for allegedly spreading defamatory pretend information and threats in opposition to Supreme Court justices, after which after Bolsonaro’s 2022 loss for inciting demonstrations throughout the nation that have been pushing to overturn President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s election.


De Moraes is unmistakeable, with his bald head, athletic construct and sweeping black gown. In his escalating assaults on the judge, Musk known as him “Brazil’s Darth Vader.”

Whether investigating former President Jair Bolsonaro, banishing his far-right allies from social media, or ordering the arrest of supporters who stormed authorities buildings on Jan. 8, 2023, Moraes has aggressively pursued these he views as undermining Brazil’s younger democracy.

Days after a mob stormed Brazil’s capital, de Moraes ordered Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, TikTook and Instagram to block the accounts of people accused of inciting or supporting assaults on Brazilian democratic order.

FILE – President of the Superior Electoral Court, Judge Alexandre de Moraes, speaks through the inauguration of the Center for Combating Disinformation and Defense of Democracy in Brasilia, Brazil, March 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres, File)


Brazil’s political proper has lengthy characterised de Moraes as muzzling free speech and interesting in political persecution. Lawmakers from Bolsonaro’s circle have been imprisoned and his supporters’ properties raided.

Bolsonaro himself grew to become a goal of the digital militias investigation in 2021. That was partly as a result of he was casting unfounded doubt on Brazil’s digital voting system. That 12 months, he additionally advised a large rally that he would not comply with de Moraes’ choices, pushing Brazil to the brink of institutional disaster.


Far-right X customers have been attempting to contain Musk in Brazilian politics for years, stated Bruna Santos, lawyer and marketing campaign supervisor at nonprofit Digital Action.

“They often tag him, asking him to take a stand on Moraes,” she stated.

On Saturday, he did, republishing a put up from X’s Global Government Affairs, tagging de Moraes and writing: “Why are you doing this @alexandre?”

Musk posted Saturday that reinstating the accounts — most of which apparently are blocked solely in Brazil — will “probably” lead the social media platform to dry up income in Brazil and drive the corporate to shutter its native workplace.

In his resolution to examine Musk, de Moraes accused him of waging a public “disinformation campaign” about the highest courtroom’s actions.


While Musk has railed in opposition to what he perceives because the censorship of sure viewpoints by Twitter’s earlier administration, he’s additionally tried to silence critics he doesn’t agree with, together with journalists and nonprofits reporting on his firms.

Musk had accused the journalists in late 2022 of sharing personal data about his whereabouts that he described as “basically assassination coordinates.” He offered no proof for that declare, although earlier Musk determined to completely ban an account that routinely tracked the flights of his personal jet utilizing publicly obtainable knowledge.

Last month, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit by X in opposition to the non-profit Center for Countering Digital Hate, which has documented the improve in hate speech on the location because it was acquired by the Tesla proprietor.

X had argued the middle’s researchers violated the location’s phrases of service by improperly compiling public tweets, and that its subsequent studies on the rise of hate speech value X hundreds of thousands of {dollars} when advertisers fled.

But U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer dismissed the swimsuit, writing in his order that it was “unabashedly and vociferously about one thing,” punishing the nonprofit for its speech.


Brazil is a key marketplace for X and different platforms. About 40 million Brazilians, or about 18% of the inhabitants, entry X not less than as soon as per 30 days, in accordance to the market analysis group eMarketer.

Twitter closed workplaces and laid off staff in Brazil in 2022 after Musk purchased the corporate. It just isn’t clear what number of staff X has in Brazil.

X’s authorized representatives in Brazil, regulation agency Pinheiro Neto, declined to remark. X didn’t reply to a message for remark.


That is determined by Musk and X’s actions. If they reinstate the accounts in Brazil, the corporate will face fines — not less than. While fines have typically not phased Musk, consultants say they might improve and X may even face suspension.

“The fines could escalate, eventually leading to the platform’s suspension. But this is always the last measure, as it harms other users in Brazil,” stated Filipe Medon, a knowledge privateness lawyer and professor on the Getulio Vargas Foundation.

Regarding Musk — a international citizen with a firm based mostly within the U.S. — any measures from Brazilian authorities would demand authorized cooperation with U.S. authorities.


Ortutay reported from San Francisco, California.


This story has been corrected to replicate that free speech is a constitutional proper in Brazil.

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