The Real Reason Elon Musk Is Throwing a Tantrum About ‘Free Speech’ in Brazil

Mike Powers
The Real Reason Elon Musk Is Throwing a Tantrum About ‘Free Speech’ in Brazil

Elon Musk spent the weekend embroiled in a war of words with the government of Brazil, which has reportedly opened an investigation into the X owner’s refusal to police misinformation on the social media site. And while Musk insists the battle is all about “free speech,” that argument falls apart pretty quickly when you remember all the times the tech CEO has bowed to the will of authoritarian governments.

Brazil’s Justice Alexandre de Moraes, an ally of current left-wing president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, reportedly ordered X to suspend some accounts in the country in recent days as part of an investigation into last year’s coup attempt by supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro, who tweeted a 2022 video of himself with Musk on Saturday, lost his re-election campaign in late 2022 and hundreds of his followers stormed federal buildings on January 8, 2023, in an effort to allow the former president to remain in power. There’s currently an investigation into what role Bolsonaro played in the coup attempt after he falsely claimed there was widespread fraud in the election, taking a page out of former president Donald Trump’s playbook.

Musk has called the order to suspend some X accounts in Brazil “aggressive censorship,” while vowing to disobey the court because, “principles matter more than profit.” The billionaire pledged to shutter the company’s Brazilian offices rather than censor the accounts and has made hyperbolic claims about what’s actually happening.

“These are the most draconian demands of any country on Earth!” Musk tweeted on Sunday.

That assertion is, of course, absurd on its face when you remember X isn’t even allowed to operate in China—a country where Musk has made big investments with Tesla. And anyone who knows the history of Musk’s acquiescence to various authoritarians from China to Turkey to India will recognize he doesn’t put up a similar fight when similarly censorious governments want to prohibit speech.

For officials in Brazil, it’s about pushing back against a far-right movement that’s quite literally tried to overthrow the government. Brazil’s Attorney General Jorge Messias criticized Musk’s claims about the suppression of speech by pointing out that billionaires who live in other countries shouldn’t control social media platforms that spread misinformation in Brazil.

“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,” Messias wrote Sunday on X according to an English language translation.

What does Musk have to say about government requests for censorship in countries where he’s seeking to open a new Tesla plant or launch SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet? The common refrain is that Musk is just following local laws, as you can see in the examples from our slideshow.

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