Bolsonaro rallies supporters for Elon Musk after judge shut down X accounts

A huge crowd fills Copacabana Beach, with white sands seen behind, a skyline of hills and tall buildings, and Mr Bolsonaro in the foreground
It is not yet known how many supporters rallied for Mr Bolsonaro on Sunday - Bruna Prado/AP
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Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s former president, has called a rally in support of Elon Musk after the tech billionaire publicly clashed with one of the country’s top judges.

Hundreds of the populist former president’s supporters gathered in Rio de Janeiro after he called a demonstration in defence of “freedom of expression” yesterday.

Mr Bolsonaro told the crowd: “They are now accusing the richest man in the world, who owns a platform whose objective is to make the whole world free. He is a man who has had the courage to show others where our democracy was heading.”

The rally comes amid a row between Mr Musk and Alexandre de Moraes, a Brazilian supreme court judge who claimed that far-Right, Bolsonaro-supporting accounts were spreading hate, disinformation and election denialism on X, formerly Twitter, which Mr Musk owns.

Mr de Moraes, who is leading an investigation into “digital militias” following the storming of the court and congress in Brasilia in January 2023, ordered Mr Musk to take down the accounts earlier this month.

The Tesla and SpaceX owner initially vowed to defy the order, but backed down after the judge put him under investigation for obstruction of justice.

Mr Musk also called for the judge to resign and speculated about pulling X from Brazil, where it has more than 20 million users.

Mr Bolsonaro, wearing a Brazil football shirt, sitting on the roof of a car, surrounded by a large crowd waving their arms
Mr Bolsonaro at the rally he called on Copacabana Beach on Sunday - Pilar Olivares/Reuters

“We will probably lose all revenue in Brazil and have to shut down our office there but principles matter more than profit,” the Texas-based tycoon said.

De Moraes immediately placed Mr Musk under investigation and slapped a daily fine of 100,000 reals (around £15,500) for any banned account that remains up on X.

Although Mr Musk has not publicly retracted his claims, the platform has now taken down the offending accounts and said it does plan to remain in Brazil.

Mr Bolsonaro, who is being investigated for his possible role in the attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power in Brazil when his presidency ended in 2023, announced the rally on his social media accounts yesterday.

It was not immediately clear how many of his supporters turned out. Last time the former president held a rally, in Sao Paulo in February, nearly 200,000 people attended.

Barred from office for eight years

Mr Bolsonaro has been barred from public office for eight years for claiming, without evidence, that Brazil’s 2022 election was rigged against him.

The showdown has highlighted the tensions between the “absolute free speech” that Mr Musk champions and the spread of disinformation that critics say undermines democracy and the rule of law and can be exploited by foreign adversaries such as Russia and China.

The Brazilian case could set a global precedent for how extremist content and fake news is regulated on the likes of X, Facebook and other social media, something those platforms have long resisted, to varying degrees.

X has plunged in value since Mr Musk bought the platform in April 2022 for £35 billion.

Critics have linked the platform’s struggles to Mr Musk firing its moderators, which they have said led to a proliferation in extremist content including anti-Semitism and AI-generated porn.

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