Brazil’s Supreme Court orders investigation of Elon Musk for fake news and obstruction

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A Brazilian Supreme Court judge named Elon Musk as a target in an ongoing investigation into the spread of fake news and opened a separate investigation Sunday night against the executive for alleged obstruction.

In his ruling, Judge Alexandre de Moraes noted that Musk began waging a public “disinformation campaign” about the high court’s actions on Saturday, and that Musk continued the following day, notably with comments that his insurance company social networks X would stop complying with court orders to block certain accounts.

“The flagrant conduct of obstruction of Brazilian justice, the incitement to crime, the public threat of disobedience to court orders and the platform’s future lack of cooperation are facts that disrespect the sovereignty of Brazil,” de Moraes wrote.

Musk will be investigated for alleged intentional criminal instrumentalization of X as part of an investigation into a network of people known as digital militias that allegedly spread defamatory fake news and threats against Supreme Court judges, according to the text of the decision. The new investigation will look into whether Musk engaged in obstruction, criminal organization and incitement.

Musk has not commented on the latest development on X as of Sunday night.

Brazil’s political right has long been characterized by Moraes such as overstepping their limits to repress freedom of expression and engaging in political persecution. In the investigation of digital militias, legislators from former President Jair Bolsonaro’s circle have been imprisoned and the homes of his followers have been raided. Bolsonaro himself became the target of the investigation in 2021.

De Moraes’ defenders have said that his decisions, while extraordinary, are legally sound and necessary to purge social media of fake news, as well as extinguish threats to Brazilian democracy, notably highlighted by the January 8, 2023 uprising. in Brazil’s capital that resembled the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the United States Capitol.

On Saturday, Musk, a self-proclaimed free speech absolutist, wrote on X that the platform would lift all restrictions on blocked accounts and predicted the move would likely drain revenue in Brazil and force the company to close its local office.

“But principles matter more than profits,” 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 De Moraes’ lawsuits, claiming they violated Brazilian law.

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

Musk had not posted Moraes’ demands as of Sunday evening and the prominent blocked accounts remained so, indicating that X had yet to act on Musk’s earlier promises.

Moraes’ decision warned against doing so, saying that each blocked account that

Brazil’s attorney general wrote Saturday night that it was urgent for Brazil to regulate social media platforms. “We cannot live in a society in which billionaires domiciled abroad have control of social networks and put themselves in a position to violate the rule of law, failing to comply with court orders and threatening our authorities. Social peace is non-negotiable,” wrote Jorge Messias in X.

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 expression is not absolute.

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