After a devastating exodus of advertisers last week involving some of the world’s largest media companies, X owner Elon Musk is suing the progressive watchdog group Media Matters over its analyses highlighting anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi content on X, a report that appeared to play a significant role in the massive and highly damaging brand uprising.
The lawsuit filed Monday accuses Media Matters of distorting the likelihood of ads appearing next to extremist content on X, arguing that the group’s testing methodology was not representative of how real users experience the site.
“Media Matters knowingly and maliciously produced side-by-side images depicting advertiser posts on , The grievance filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, he said. “Media Matters designed both these images and the resulting media strategy to drive advertisers off the platform and destroy X Corp.”
The lawsuit marks Musk’s latest example favorite answer to its critics and seeks to place the blame for negative advertiser reaction on third-party groups after Musk, in the same week, publicly endorsed the anti-Semitic claim that Jewish communities push “anti-white hatred”.
The lawsuit simultaneously names Media Matters and Eric Hananoki, its senior investigative reporter, as defendants. It seeks a court order compelling Media Matters to remove its analysis from its website and accuses Media Matters of interfering with X’s contracts with advertisers, disrupting their business relationships, and unlawfully disparaging X.
In a statement Monday evening, Media Matters president Angelo Carusone vowed to defend the group from the lawsuit.
“This is a frivolous lawsuit intended to force X’s critics to silence,” Carusone said. “Media Matters stands by its reporting and looks forward to winning in court.”
On Monday evening, Linda Yaccarino, CEO of X, came to the social media site’s defense.
“If you know me, you know that I am committed to truth and fairness,” Yaccarino published. “Here’s the truth. No genuine user on X saw ads from IBM, Comcast or Oracle next to the content of the Media Matters article.
Following the filing of the lawsuit, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stepped in, announcing that he would investigate Media Matters to determine whether studying content on X might constitute “potential fraudulent activity” under Texas law. He also called the group a “radical left-wing organization” that “would like nothing more than to limit freedom by reducing participation in the public square.”
Musk had done it teased litigation Saturday after major brands including Disney, Paramount and CNN parent Warner Bros. Discovery stopped their advertising on X. Musk threatened a “thermonuclear lawsuit” against Media Matters and “ALL who colluded in this fraudulent attack on our company,” including, he said in a later post, “their board of directors, their donors, their dark money network, all of them…”
In the preview of they ran an ad for a major brand alongside extremist content. The result generated by the test would almost never occur in the real world, Musk’s complaint claims.
Legal experts on technology and the First Amendment have largely called X’s complaint Monday weak and filed opportunistically in a court that Musk believes will likely side with him.
“It’s one of those lawsuits filed more for symbolism than substance, as evidenced by how empty the charges actually are, and by the way Musk chose to file, singling out the ultra-conservative Northern District of Texas despite its absence of any logical connection to the dispute,” said Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas and a CNN legal analyst. “The choice of venue can best be described as an attempt to bolster a weak claim on the merits with a bench that is more likely to be in tune even with weak requests”.
“This seems like a press release to me, not a court document,” he said Joan Donovan, professor of journalism and emerging media studies at Boston University. “X admits the ads were appearing alongside hateful content, but claims it was ‘rare’. This is the same strategy employed by advertisers who led YouTube to demonetise political content in 2017.”
One legal expert said the lawsuit could backfire.
“This lawsuit is riddled with legal flaws, and it is highly ironic that a platform that holds itself out as a beacon of free speech files a phony case like this that flatly contradicts fundamental principles of the First Amendment and targets the free speech of a critic,” First Amendment lawyer Ted Boutrous told CNN. “And in a way it’s a dream come true for the people at Media Matters because it could allow them to use the litigation discovery process to force X to divulge all sorts of embarrassing and damaging private information that he would much rather keep secret. ”
Ken White, a First Amendment lawyer and criminal defense lawyer based in Los Angeles, said the decision to file in Texas may have been intended to evade laws passed by California, the District of Columbia and dozens of states that prohibit actions frivolous legal claims intended to stifle public criticism. .
“X filed this motion in federal court in Texas to avoid enforcement of an anti-SLAPP statute,” White said of Alternative X. Blue skyusing the acronym that refers to the so-called “strategic causes against public participation”.
In the federal appeals court that oversees Texas, anti-SLAPP statutes do not apply, White added.
“X’s purpose is to harass, abuse and maximize the cost of litigation, and the anti-SLAPP statutes interfere with that goal,” he said. he wrote.
Monday’s case was assigned to District Judge Mark Pittman, a Donald Trump appointee and previously at the center of some of the nation’s biggest legal battles. Last November, Pittman blocked President Joe Biden’s plan to forgive up to $20,000 in student loan debt, one of two such decisions to reach the Supreme Court.
Last August, Pittman governed that a Texas law prohibiting people between the ages of 18 and 20 from carrying guns in public is unconstitutional and inconsistent with the Second Amendment and the history of the United States.
CNN’s Jon Passantino, Oliver Darcy and Dan Berman contributed to this report