Elon Musk vows to take US watchdog to court over 'fraudulent attack'

Media Matters claims pro-Nazi adverts were placed on social media platform X, prompting an exodus of advertisers

X CEO Elon Musk leaves a US Senate bipartisan Artificial Intelligence (AI) Insight Forum at the US Capitol on September 13. AFP
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Elon Musk, the owner of X, has said the company formerly known as Twitter will be taking US watchdog Media Matters to court, after it reported that pro-Nazi advertisements on the platform were being placed next to content from prominent global companies.

Mr Musk called the report a “fraudulent attack” on X, promising that “the split second court opens on Monday”, a “thermonuclear lawsuit” will be filed against the Washington-based organisation and “ALL those who colluded”.

He dismissed Media Matters as an “activist group” seeking to “undermine” the freedom of expression on X, which Mr Musk has heavily championed from the time he offered to buy it last year.

Accusing Media Matters of promoting false information, he said the report was also an “attack to our revenue streams”, which Mr Musk has been working hard to prop up by implementing new strategies, including introducing new paid tiers.

“To manipulate the public and advertisers, Media Matters created an alternate account and curated the posts and advertising appearing on the account's timeline to misinform advertisers about the placement of their posts,” according to a document posted by Mr Musk on X.

X had earlier said that its system does not intentionally place brands “actively next to this kind of content”.

The Media Matters report opened up an exodus of advertising dollars critical to X's strategy. US tech major IBM on Friday suspended all its advertising on the platform following the report.

Since then, the X boycott has gained momentum: among the notable companies that have paused their ad activity on X are Apple, Disney, US media giant Comcast, entertainment major Paramount, movie studio Lionsgate and even the European Commission.

Advertisers have fled the site since Mr Musk bought it in October last year and reduced content moderation, resulting in a sharp rise in hate speech on X, civil rights groups have said.

These are sure to affect X's revenue stream; boosting this has become a top priority for the company ever since Mr Musk took the helm.

The Media Matters report claimed that advertising buys on X “either come from direct buys or through its partnership with ad exchanges like Google Ads”.

It also hit at X chief executive Linda Yaccarino, claiming she has “attempted to stem the advertiser exodus by claiming that brands are 'protected from the risk of being next to' toxic posts and repeatedly writing that the platform stands against anti-Semitism”.

Ms Yaccarino, who took over from Mr Musk in June, fired back, saying that X has been “extremely clear about our efforts to combat anti-Semitism and discrimination”.

“X’s point of view has always been very clear that discrimination by everyone should STOP across the board – I think that's something we can and should all agree on,” she said.

However, Mr Musk put himself in hot water after he this week endorsed a post on X that falsely claimed Jewish people were stoking hatred against white people, saying a user who referenced the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory was speaking “the actual truth”.

The White House on Friday condemned his view, calling it an “abhorrent promotion of anti-Semitic and racist hate” that “runs against our core values as Americans”.

It is unclear whether Mr Musk's comments, posted on Wednesday, and the release of the Media Matters report were connected.

Anti-Semitism, meanwhile, has been on the rise in recent years in the US and worldwide.

Following the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas after last month's attack, anti-Semitic incidents in the US rose by nearly 400 per cent from the year-earlier period, according to the Anti-Defamation League, a non-profit that fights anti-Semitism.

Mr Musk has blamed the ADL for the continuing drop in advertisers without offering any evidence.

Updated: November 18, 2023, 1:42 PM