On X, Elon Musk pushes a campaign against a Brazilian Supreme Court Justice

Art by Global Voices over photos of Alexandre de Moraes by Antonio Augusto/TSE and Elon Musk by James Duncan Davidson on Flickr. Licenses: Public domain and (CC BY-NC 2.0), respectively.

Brazil’s Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes included the owner of X (formerly Twitter), Elon Musk, in an investigation into the operations of digital militias in the country. The decision was taken on April 8, a couple of days after Musk reposted an X official account claiming to have received the court's orders to block accounts in Brazil, saying they would appeal it.

Moraes is the justice in charge of inquiries on fake news, digital militias, and the 2023 coup attempt, which led to decisions and actions that some see as debatable. He was also the president of the Electoral Superior Court (TSE) during the polarizing 2022 elections, which were won by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Right after reposting the official account for X's ”Global Government Affairs team”, Musk shared a thread by US journalist Michael Shellenberger with the so-called ”Twitter Files” in Brazil, and commented: ”This aggressive censorship appears to violate the law & will of the people of Brazil.”

Since his stance, other influencers and politicians aligned with former president Jair Bolsonaro also engaged with the online narrative targeting Moraes and claiming Brazil has a dictatorship in place.

While reposting some of them, Musk said Moraes ”should be on trial for his crimes.”

Moraes’ decision to include Musk in the inquiry on digital militias claims there is a ”permanent and habitual CRIMINAL WEAPONIZATION of social media providers and private message services,” but the companies haven't been included until Musk's recent posts that he says to be ”starting a disinformation campaign on the actions of the Supreme Court and Superior Electoral Court,” ”instigating disobedience and obstruction to the Law (…) also declaring that the platform will decline to comply with the Brazilian Justice orders.”

The document states:


Os provedores de redes sociais e de serviços de mensageria privada devem absoluto respeito à Constituição Federal, à Lei e à Jurisdição Brasileira. A dignidade da pessoa humana, a proteção à vida de crianças e adolescentes e a manutenção dos Estado Democrático de Direito estão acima dos interesses financeiros dos provedores de redes sociais e de serviços de mensageria privada.


Social network and private message providers owe absolute respect to the Federal Constitution, the Law and the Brazilian legislation. The dignity of the human person, protection of the lives of children and teenagers and the maintenance of the Rule of Law are above the financial interest of social network and private message providers.

Moraes's decisions range from suspending social media accounts and content from people under investigation in Brazil for spreading fake news and endorsing anti-democratic acts to seizing passports and prison sentences for those who were active players in the January 8, 2023, attack on federal buildings.

Who is Alexandre de Moraes?

Alexandre de Moraes was appointed to the Supreme Court (STF) in 2017 by Michel Temer, who became president after the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff. He was named for the seat of Teori Zavascki, who died in an airplane crash — weather conditions were among the causes.

At first criticized by the left-wing movements in Brazil, Moraes became a target of former president Jair Bolsonaro and his far-right followers after leading investigations linked to them at the Supreme Court. In May 2020, while tensions between Bolsonaro and the STF were escalating, bolsonaristas protested with torches and white masks in front of the court building, attacking Moraes.

As BBC Brazil reports, Bolsonaro himself has referred to Moraes as a ”scoundrel,” ”brat,” ”mean-spirited,” ”prowler,” and ”dictator”.

Moraes was never a leftist, having been previously
affiliated with PSDB (Brazilian Social Democracy party), PT (Workers’ Party) traditional opposition party, and working as São Paulo's Public Security State Secretary and Temer's minister. At an event in the State Court of Auditors (TCE) last October, he commented about becoming ”a villain to the right”:

Você falar de uma instituição fica um pouco etéreo. Você tem que personificar. Você tem que achar dentro da instituição um inimigo de carne e osso, porque aí você personifica. No caso do Brasil, foi carne, osso e sem cabelo.

You talk about an institution and is a little ethereal. You have to personify it. You have to find, inside the institution, a flesh and blood enemy, then you personify it. In Brazil's case it was flesh, blood and no hair.

His rulings caused divisiveness in public opinion and the law community. As reported by The New York Times, while some see Moraes as someone with an ”aggressive approach and expanding authority,” others consider that with Brazilian institutions walking on thin ice, his actions might be ”saving democracy.”

Musk and bolsonaristas

On April 3, Michael Shellenberger published a thread with a series of e-mails that allegedly proved, that ”Brazil is engaged in a sweeping crackdown on free speech led by a Supreme Court justice named Alexandre de Moraes.” The text is co-signed by two Brazilian journalists, David Agape and Eli Vieira.

Estela Aranha, a Brazilian lawyer and digital rights activist, responded to Vieira's questioning on their reporting, that the ”Twitter Files” was gathering several excerpts of messages from the platform's legal team, regarding different legal rulings from different cases, with no connection between themselves or to free speech, the Supreme Court and the Electoral Superior Court, ”to create a narrative.”

Shellenberger and Agape were invited by bolsonarista senator Magno Malta to speak at the Communication and Digital Right Commission at the Senate on April 11.

Two of Brazil's main national newspapers, Folha de São Paulo and O Estado de São Paulo, published editorials criticizing some of Moraes’ decisions, including the suspension of social media accounts.

Platforming far-right

Brazil is X's fourth largest market. While X claims to be fighting against censorship and for free speech, as stated in an article published by Wired, democracy researcher Nina Santos, interviewed by the outlet, said she is worried this could set a dangerous precedent:

They are trying to use Brazil as a laboratory on how to interfere in local politics and local businesses.

They are making the case that their decision is more important than the national decision from a state democratic institution.

Sociologist Celso Rocha de Barros, who is a columnist at Folha, asked international journalists covering the case to avoid treating it ”as a conflict between a judge and a bunch of Twitter users,” noting that Moraes’ ”decisions could have been reversed by other supreme court judges” and by the Congress, which never happened because he has their support under the current circumstances:

The people who had their Twitter accounts suspended were Bolsonaro militants who supported his radicalization. (…)

Please, don't write about this without adding this context: the supreme court stopped a massive coup attempt, lead by Brazil's former president Jair Bolsonaro, with the help of far-right generals and the former commander of the Brazilian navy.

The president of the Federal Supreme Court, Justice Luís Barroso, issued an official statement:

Como é público e notório, travou-se recentemente no Brasil uma luta de vida e morte pelo Estado Democrático de Direito e contra um golpe de Estado, que está sob investigação nesta Corte com observância do devido processo legal.

O inconformismo contra a prevalência da democracia continua a se manifestar na instrumentalização criminosa das redes sociais.

O Supremo Tribunal Federal atuou e continuará a atuar na proteção das instituições, sendo certo que toda e qualquer empresa que opere no Brasil está sujeita à Constituição Federal, às leis e às decisões das autoridades brasileiras.

Decisões judiciais podem ser objeto de recursos, mas jamais de descumprimento deliberado. Essa é uma regra mundial do Estado de Direito e que faremos prevalecer no Brasil.

As it is public and notorious, a life and death struggle has taken place in Brazil recently for the democratic Rule of Law and against a coup d'état, which is under investigation at this Court with observance of the due legal process.

The nonconformity against the prevalence of democracy continues to manifest itself in the criminal instrumentalization of social networks.

The Supreme Court has acted and will continue to act in protecting the institutions, being certain that every and any company operating in Brazil is subjected to the Federal Constitution, the laws, and the decisions of Brazilian authorities.

Judicial rulings can be object of appeals, but never to deliberate non-compliance. This is the world rule of the Rule of Law that we will make prevail in Brazil.

X's defense team in Brazil already declared the platform will continue to obey court orders.

Meanwhile, Bluesky, the social network created by Twitter's co-founder Jack Dorsey, registered 150,000 new Brazilian users in a week.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.