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Elon Musk Defies Court Order Against Brazil

After his eventual defeat by the current Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2022, former far-right president Jair Bolsonaro engineered “a wilful and premeditated coup attempt” to undermine Latin America’s largest democracy, which saw extremist rioters storming the Brazilian congress, leaving behind a bizarre trail of vengeful wreckage a year ago.

“The resistance only came after the deed had been done – it’s as if it was allowed to happen,” had said Celso Amorim, Brazil’s former minister of defense.

Portrait from the Brazilian congress vandalized in coup attempt

Now in 2024, thousands of pages of reports and hours of investigation later, the court proceedings are still ongoing. In the course of his inquiry into former president Jair Bolsonaro's attempts to maintain power following his defeat, Justice Alexandre de Moraes issued a court order compelling the website formerly known as Twitter to block a number of individuals. Along with prohibiting the social network from disclosing which accounts were blocked, the order also carried fines of roughly £16,000 per day for noncompliance. According to Musk, the business will now reverse those blocks.

The multibillionaire demanded that Moraes step down or face impeachment.

The judge retaliated by declaring late on Sunday that he had begun an investigation into what he considered to be Musk's obstruction of justice. Brazilian attorney-general Jorge Messias also called for the urgent regulation of social networks. “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.”

More than two years of correspondence between Twitter's legal staff and Brazilian judges portraying "a sweeping crackdown on free speech" were made public on Wednesday by Michael Shellenberger, one of the numerous journalists who were allowed access to the internal records of X as a part of their collaboration for the “Twitter Files” of Elon Musk, who himself is a self-proclaimed “free-speech absolutist.”

“We do not know the reasons these blocking orders have been issued [and] We are prohibited from saying which court or judge issued the order, or on what grounds.”

Musk joined the protest against Justice de Moraes’ "aggressive censorship" on Saturday, suggesting that the judge has “imposed enormous fines, threatened to detain our staff, and blocked access to X in Brazil." Musk added that due to his defiance "We will probably lose all revenue in Brazil and have to shut down our office there. But principles matter more than profit.”

Musk then doubled down on his decision, threatening to “publish everything demanded” by the court and accused Justice de Moraes, a known and vocal advocate for democracy against Bolsonaro’s attempted coup d'etat, of “brazenly and repeatedly” betraying the “constitution and people of Brazil.” His words align with the Brazilian far-right who have long accused de Moraes of judicial dictatorship.

However, many other perspectives, including civil rights groups have also deeply criticized Musk’s X for allowing and emboldening hate speech, extremist viewpoints, and misinformative and provocative content under the name of free speech.

This policy of free speech goes both ways – Musk’s platform has since become a front for Lula’s administration. “We will not allow anyone – no matter how much money and power they have – to affront our country,” condemned Paulo Pimenta, the Brazilian minister of communication. “Brazil is not the jungle of impunity and our sovereignty will not be subordinate to the power of internet platforms or the business model of big tech.”

“Brazil is not, nor will it become the backyard of the far right,” Pimenta added.

Just this March, Musk had successfully come face-to-face with Türkiye in court after President Erdoğan’s government demanded the removal of key posts and accounts of opposition figures critical of the government.

Musk’s fight against Türkiye and Brazil are as far as black and white – unabashed overt political condemnation does ring differently than a court investigation with a side of alleged censorship. Nevertheless, they go to show that “free-speech absolutism” is indeed a double-edged sword. Perhaps the purest and most straightforward form of the basic right to free speech is indeed not what we, as a society, seek.


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