Brazil v. X all-out war: Justice investigates Musk after refusing to block users

Judge De Moraes threatens heavy daily fines for each profile he is forced to close to be reinstated and threatens the company's managers in the country.

The Brazilian Supreme Court opened an investigation against Elon Musk after his announcement that he will lift all restrictions imposed by judge Alexandre de Moraes, president of the Superior Electoral Court, on important X accounts in Brazil, most of them close to former president Jair Bolsonaro. In the order, the South African tycoon is accused of "criminal instrumentalization" of the social network, "obstruction of justice, membership of a criminal organization and incitement to crime" and is warned that Justice will impose a fine of 100,000 reais (about 20,000 dollars) per day for each  profile that is restored. In addition, it points out that the company's legal officers in Brazil will face charges for "disobedience to a court order."

"Social networks are not lawless territory"

The judge stressed that "social networks are not a lawless territory or no man's land," but that they owe absolute respect to Brazil's rules. According to De Moraes, the tycoon is backing the message of "criminal organizations" which he accuses of spreading disinformation as justification for closing his profiles on X.

X's conduct constitutes, in theory, not only an abuse of economic power, by trying to illegally impact public opinion, but also a blatant inducement and instigation to the maintenance of various criminal conducts practiced by the digital militias under investigation, aggravating the risks to the safety of the members of the Supreme Court - as is easily seen in the various messages with hateful content made in support of those posted by Elon Musk - and to the democratic rule of law itself.

Musk accuses judge of "brazenly and repeatedly betraying the Constitution and the people of Brazil"

The ruling is the response of the president of the Superior Electoral Court of Brazil to two messages from the tycoon, in which he assured that he would restablish the affected accounts, even if it cost him the closure of the network in the country, and a second post in which he announced that he was going to proceed to publish De Moraes' requests to the company. Some requirements that, according to Musk, "violate Brazilian law." The CEO also lashed out harshly against the judge: "This judge has brazenly and repeatedly betrayed the constitution and people of Brazil. He should resign or be impeached."

Brazil's 'Twitter files' denounced by Musk and Shellenberger

The conflict began on April 3, when journalist Michael Shellenberger published a thread on X that he called the Twitter Files of Brazil, in which he denounced "a sweeping crackdown on free speech led by a Supreme Court justice named Alexandre de Moraes. De Moraes has thrown people in jail without trial for things they posted on social media. He has demanded the removal of users from social media platforms. And he has required the censorship of specific posts, without giving users any right of appeal or even the right to see the evidence presented against them." All this in order to favor Lula da Silva and his party.

Things accelerated last Saturday, when X and Shellenberger himself denounced new demands from the Brazilian Justice to censor more accounts. The journalist lamented that the South American country is "on the brink" and directly accused President Lula of participating "President Lula da Silva is participating in the push toward totalitarianism. Since taking office, Lula has massively increased government funding of the mainstream news media, most of which are encouraging increased censorship. What Lula and de Moraes are doing is an outrageous violation of Brazil’s constitution and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights."

X calls for transparency and respect for freedom of expression in Brazil

X's official statement, more restrained, complains that the injunction does not tell them why they had to block the accounts, nor which posts by these users "allegedly violate the law." In addition, "We are prohibited from saying which court or judge issued the order, or for what reasons. We are prohibited from saying which accounts are affected. We are threatened with daily fines if we do not comply." In closing, X stresses that "we believe that such orders are not in accordance with the Marco Civil da Internet or the Brazilian Federal Constitution, and we challenge the orders legally where possible. The people of Brazil, regardless of their political beliefs, are entitled to freedom of speech, due process, and transparency from their own authorities."

Confrontation at Brazil's highest political level over Musk decision

The messages caused a great stir on the social network, especially in Brazil where relevant figures such as the Attorney General, Jorge Messias or the president of Lula's party, Gleisi Hoffmann defending the judge and accusing Musk of attacking national sovereignty with his "interference" and advocated an urgent regulation of social networks. Opposing, Eduardo Bolsonaro defended the tycoon's position, even sharing messages from the Spanish politician Santiago Abascal, president of VOX, and Portuguese André Ventura, leader of CHEGA. Some of those affected by the gagging of the Brazilian justice system also joined in.

Faced with the threat of shutting down the network, Musk advised X users in Brazil to download a VPN in order to continue connecting.

Musk, "free speech absolutist."

Musk, a self-described "free speech absolutist," has already provided several journalists with the files on censorship - known as Twitter files- that took place in the United States as a result of the covid pandemic, as well as pressure from the White House -and the connivance of the media and social networks- so that certain opinions and people were censored or blocked for defending uncomfortable postulates or contradicting the official version.