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Elon Musk included in Brazilian judge's investigation of disinformation

Tesla CEO Elon Musk leaves the Tesla Gigafactory for electric cars after a visit in Gruenheide near Berlin, Germany, March 13, 2024
Tesla CEO Elon Musk leaves the Tesla Gigafactory for electric cars after a visit in Gruenheide near Berlin, Germany, March 13, 2024 Copyright Ebrahim Noroozi/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Ebrahim Noroozi/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.
By AP & Euronews
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Alexandre de Moraes, a judge from the Brazilian Supreme Court included Elon Musk in an ongoing investigation over the dissemination of fake news.

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One of Brazil's Supreme Court judges included Elon Musk, the owner of the social media platform X (formerly Twitter), in an ongoing investigation regarding disinformation.

The judge opened a separate investigation into the billionaire for alleged obstruction on Sunday.

Musk reacted on social media, calling the decision "aggressive censorship". 

In his ruling, Justice Alexandre de Moraes highlighted that Musk initiated a public "disinformation campaign" on Saturday concerning the actions of the top court. 

He pointed out that Musk persisted with this campaign the following day, particularly with statements suggesting that his social media company X would no longer adhere to the court's directives 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,” de Moraes wrote.

Brazil’s political right has long characterised 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. Bolsonaro himself became a target of the investigation in 2021.

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 uprising in Brazil's capital on January 8th, 2023 that resembled the insurrection at the US Capitol.

On Saturday, Musk, who is 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 to X if it was shut down and wrote that X would publish all of de Moraes' demands, claiming they violate Brazilian law.

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

Musk had not published 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.

Moraes' decision warned against doing so, saying each blocked account that X eventually reactivates will entail a fine of 100,000 reais (€18,240) per day, and that those responsible will be held legally to account for disobeying a court order.

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,” Jorge Messias wrote on 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 speech is not absolute.

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