Brazil’s Supreme Court minister includes Elon Musk in investigation on digital militias

After Musk launched threats on his social media platform, Minister Alexandre de Moraes also ordered the billionaire to respect legal decisions

April 09, 2024 by Brasil de Fato
Alexandre de Moraes. Photo: Foto: Isac Nóbrega/PR/ Wikimedia commons

After threats from Elon Musk, the Minister of Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court (STF, in Portuguese) Alexandre de Moraes ordered on April 7 that Musk be included among those investigated in the ongoing inquiry into anti-democratic digital militias. “Social media platforms aren’t a lawless land! Social media platforms don’t belong to anyone,” the minister wrote in capital letters in his decision.

Moraes also decided to open an investigation into Musk for obstruction of justice and incitement to crime. The minister also ordered X to comply with all the orders of the Brazilian courts and set a fine of BRL 100,000 (USD 19,860) for each profile it reactivates irregularly.

On Sunday, the tech billionaire called for the resignation or impeachment of Moraes in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

Coming shortly, X will publish everything demanded by [Alexandre de Moraes] and how those requests violate Brazilian law. This judge has brazenly and repeatedly betrayed the constitution and people of Brazil. He should resign or be impeached,” he posted, ending with “Shame, Alexandre, shame.”

Since last April, Musk has been attacking Moraes on X, accusing the STF minister of censorship on social media. It all started with a comment on a post on Moraes’ official account on the platform. Musk questioned why there was “so much censorship in Brazil?” The comment was supported by politicians aligned with Bolsonaro.

The businessman threatened to remove restrictions on profiles of Jair Bolsonaro’s allies blocked by the Supreme Court, close his company’s operations in Brazil, and publish all legal requests the court sent to the social media platform.

Musk then reposted a series of videos by American journalist Michael Shellenberger. In the text accompanying one of the videos, the journalist states that: “At 5:52 pm Eastern Time the X corporation, formerly known as Twitter, announced that a Brazilian court had forced it to ‘block certain popular accounts in Brazil’. Then, less than one hour later, the owner of X, [Elon Musk] announced that X would defy the court’s order, and lift all restrictions,” Shellenberger concluded, “At any moment, the Supreme Court could block all access to X/Twitter for the Brazilian people.”

Alexandre de Moraes is the STF’s rapporteur for inquiries investigating the spread of fake news on social networks, especially about the fairness of electronic ballot boxes. In this context, he is the author of orders that suspended profiles involved in spreading disinformation about the Brazilian electoral process.

This article was translated and adapted from two articles originally published in Portuguese on Brasil de Fato.