On Monday, Elon Musk followed through with his promise to sue Media Matters over reporting that helped spark the latest advertiser backlash against antisemitic content posted on Musk’s X (formerly Twitter).
Musk’s complaint—bizarrely filed in a Texas court despite X Corp. being based in California and Media Matters in the District of Columbia—accused Media Matters of interference with X Corp.’s contract with advertisers, business disparagement, and interference with a prospective economic advantage by allegedly disrupting X Corp.’s relationship with advertisers.
The lawsuit’s business disparagement claim marks the first time that Musk has sued a group monitoring hate speech on X for defaming the platform. Where individuals can sue for defamation, businesses can sue over disparagement. In this case, Musk must prove that Media Matters knowingly published false statements intended to harm X Corp.’s business to succeed in his lawsuit.
According to X, Media Matters “took screenshots of posts from IBM, Apple, Bravo, Xfinity, and Oracle that Media Matters engineered to appear adjacent to inflammatory, fringe content.” All of these advertisers except Oracle, X confirmed, stopped advertising on X, as well as other advertisers whose ads weren’t even included in Media Matters’ report.
If the lawsuit proceeds, Musk may have a hard time proving that Media Matters published any false statements, though. X’s complaint alleged that Media Matters “manipulated” the platform’s algorithm to generate inorganic ad placements to form a “blatant smear campaign,” but the complaint seemingly admitted that no statements that Media Matters published were false. Media Matters will likely argue that advertisers could interpret its reporting however they felt would be best for their business.
X Corp. is hoping to convince the court that Media Matters intended to portray rare occurrences of ads being placed next to antisemitic content as a problem occurring frequently, but Media Matters’ report does not make such a claim. Instead, Media Matters’ report only noted that X “has been placing ads for major brands” next to “content that touts Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party.” The report called out X CEO Linda Yaccarino for claiming that “brands are now ‘protected from the risk of being next to’ potentially toxic content” and simply said “that certainly isn’t the case for at least five major brands.”
Yaccarino has since also accused Media Matters of manipulating X, posting on X that she’s speaking up as someone “committed to truth and fairness.”
“Here’s the truth,” Yaccarino wrote. “Not a single authentic user on X saw IBM’s, Comcast’s, or Oracle’s ads next to the content in Media Matters’ article. Only two users saw Apple’s ad next to the content, at least one of which was Media Matters. Data wins over manipulation or allegations. Don’t be manipulated. Stand with X.”
It seems likely that Media Matters will respond to the lawsuit with an anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss. Media Matters president Angelo Carusone posted on X that “this is a frivolous lawsuit meant to bully X’s critics into silence. Media Matters stands behind its reporting and look forward to winning in court.”