US Committee Releases Sealed Brazil Court Orders to Musk’s X, Shedding Light on Account Suspensions

US Committee Releases Sealed Brazil Court Orders to Musk’s X, Shedding Light on Account Suspensions
Elon Musk arrives at the 10th Breakthrough Prize Ceremony at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles on April 13, 2024. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

RIO DE JANEIRO—A U.S. congressional committee released confidential Brazilian court orders to suspend accounts on the social media platform X, offering a glimpse into decisions that have spurred complaints of alleged censorship from the company and its billionaire owner Elon Musk.

The Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee late Wednesday published a staff report disclosing dozens of decisions by Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes ordering X to suspend or remove around 150 user profiles from its platform in recent years.

The 541-page report is the product of committee subpoenas directed at X. In his orders, Justice de Moraes had prohibited X from making them public.

“To comply with its obligations under U.S. law, X Corp. has responded to the Committee,” the company said in a statement on X on April 15.

The disclosure comes amid a battle Mr. Musk has waged against Justice de Moraes.

Mr. Musk had vowed to publish Justice de Moraes’ orders, which he equated to censorship. His crusade has been cheered on by supporters of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who allege they are being targeted by political persecution, and have found common cause with their ideological allies in the United States.

Justice de Moraes has overseen a five-year probe of so-called “digital militias,” who allegedly spread defamatory fake news and threats to Supreme Court justices. The investigation expanded to include those inciting demonstrations across the country, seeking to overturn Mr. Bolsonaro’s 2022 election loss. Those protests culminated in the Jan. 8 breach in Brazil’s capital, with Bolsonaro supporters storming government buildings, including the Supreme Court, in an attempt to oust President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from office.

Justice de Moraes’ critics claim he has abused his powers and shouldn’t be allowed to unilaterally ban social media accounts, including those of democratically elected legislators.

Alexandre De Moraes
Brazilian Supreme Court Chief Justice Alexandre de Moraes in Brasilia, Brazil, on June 22, 2023. (Eraldo Peres/AP Photo)

The secret orders disclosed by the congressional committee had been issued both by Brazil’s Supreme Court and its top electoral court, over which Justice de Moraes currently presides.

The press office of the Supreme Court declined to comment on the potential ramifications of their release when contacted by The Associated Press.

The Supreme Court’s press office said in a statement Thursday afternoon that the orders do not contain justifications, but said the company and people with suspended accounts can gain access by requesting the decisions from the court.

Brazil is a key market for X and other social media platforms. About 40 million Brazilians, or about 18 percent of the population, access X at least once per month, according to market research group eMarketer.

X has followed suspension orders under threat of hefty fines. Justice de Moraes typically required compliance within two hours, and established a daily fine of 100,000-reais ($20,000) for noncompliance.

It isn’t clear whether the 150 suspended accounts represent the entirety of those Justice de Moraes ordered suspended. Until the committee report, it wasn’t known whether the total was a handful, a few dozen or more. Some of the suspended accounts in the report have since been reactivated.

On April 6, Musk took to X to challenge Justice de Moraes, questioning why he was “demanding so much censorship in Brazil.” The following day, the tech mogul said he would cease to comply with court orders to block accounts—and that Justice de Moraes should either resign or be impeached. Predicting that X could be shut down in Brazil, he instructed Brazilians to use a VPN to retain their access.

Justice de Moraes swiftly included Mr. Musk in the ongoing investigation of digital militias, and launched a separate investigation into whether Mr. Musk engaged in obstruction, criminal organization, and incitement.

ntd newsletter icon
Sign up for NTD Daily
What you need to know, summarized in one email.
Stay informed with accurate news you can trust.
By registering for the newsletter, you agree to the Privacy Policy.