It didn’t quite happen the moment court was open, as Elon Musk the billionaire owner of X/Twitter had promised, but at the end of Monday, the social media platform did file its “thermonuclear” lawsuit against media watchdog Media Matters for America.
That lawsuit involves a Media Matters report released on Nov. 16, which shows examples of neo-Nazi and white supremacist content on Musk’s social media platform being served up alongside ads from major corporations, including IBM and Apple. However, Musk’s lawsuit contends that Media Matters and the report’s author, Eric Hananoki, “knowingly and maliciously manufactured side-by-side images depicting advertisers’ posts on X Corp.’s social media platform beside Neo-Nazi and white-nationalist fringe content.”
The suit seeks “actual and consequential damages” from loss of revenue, to have Media Matters cover X Corp.’s legal expenses, and for Media Matters to pull the article from everywhere the group published it. The only problem with the suit is that not only can anyone else reproduce the report’s results with trivial effort, but the suit itself seems to confirm the findings.
Since Musk took over Twitter, the platform has seen a huge growth in racism, antisemitism, anti-LGBTQ speech, and hate speech in general. Some of these accounts, which The Washington Post describes as belonging to “high-profile far-right influencers,” even got a paycheck.
Musk has previously responded to accusations of racism not by taking action to restore protections on his platform, but by suing a research group that found numerous instances of hate speech. Tellingly, that lawsuit also failed to show that the hate speech wasn’t there, instead claiming that a report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate “contained metrics used out of context.”
Now it’s Media Matters’ turn, as it appears Musk’s response to anyone highlighting the sheer awfulness of his outlet is to try and bully them in court.
The latest lawsuit helpfully explains how Musk believes Media Matters generated its report.
First, Media Matters accessed accounts that had been active for at least 30 days, bypassing X’s ad filter for new users. Media Matters then exclusively followed a small subset of users consisting entirely of accounts in one of two categories: those known to produce extreme, fringe content, and accounts owned by X’s big-name advertisers. The end result was a feed precision-designed by Media Matters for a single purpose: to produce side-by-side ad/content placements that it could screenshot in an effort to alienate advertisers.
In other words, Media Matters “manufactured” their results by mimicking the experience of anyone following accounts similar to those “content creators” Musk had rewarded with both blue checks and paychecks.
But it doesn’t even take much effort to replicate Media Matters’ findings. As multiple observers have pointed out, all that anyone needs to do to see advertisers and hate speech side by side on X is to run a search.
In one case, a search for “#HeilHitler” helpfully positions Nazi content next to an ad promoting Germany.
The only “manipulation” Media Matters engaged in was creating an account that was similar to far too many on Musk’s platform. If Media Matters repeatedly refreshed the screen until they got the ad mix they wanted, it almost certainly wasn’t because of a lack of hate speech. It was because most of the ads on X at this point are things like this very special tissue box. Ads from well-known advertisers were already rare before this report.
But more importantly, this latest lawsuit is a farce designed to cover up the real source of X’s revenue loss. The biggest factor driving advertisers away from the platform is simply Musk and his support of racism and antisemitism. It was Musk’s own endorsement of an antisemitic post that sent major advertisers running for the door, not the Media Matters report. And this is far from the first time. In the past, Musk has supported the “blood libel” conspiracy theory and blamed Jews for antisemitism.
Any reasonable judge would throw this out in a heartbeat, but since Musk’s team has carefully court-shopped this suit to a conservative district in Texas, don’t be surprised if it hangs around much longer than it should.