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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
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Elon Musk’s X sues Media Matters over reporting on ad placements

X claims Media Matters is running a smear campaign and exclusively followed a small subset of fringe users to generate manipulated ad pairings that drove away major advertisers.

FORT WORTH (CN) — Elon Musk’s X Corp. filed a federal defamation lawsuit Monday night against Media Matters after the left-leaning nonprofit reported that certain advertisements on the social network ran next to antisemitic and white nationalist content.

The report fueled an exodus of major advertisers from the social media site.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Fort Worth, Texas, was filed two days after Musk threatened on X to file a “thermonuclear lawsuit” against what he claims are fraudulent attacks against his company. Media Matters and senior investigative reporter Eric Hananoki are the sole defendants.

“Media Matters 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 and then portrayed these manufactured images as if they were what typical X users experience on the platform,” X Corp. says in the 15-page complaint. “Media Matters designed both these images and its resulting media strategy to drive advertisers from the platform and destroy X Corp.”

X says Media Matters is running a “blatant smear campaign” against it and Musk, claiming the media watchdog has published more than 20 articles disparaging both in November alone.

“Media Matters has manipulated the algorithms governing the user experience on X to bypass safeguards and create images of X’s largest advertiser’s paid posts adjacent to racist, incendiary content, leaving the false impression that these pairings are anything but what they actually are: manufactured, inorganic and extraordinarily rare,” the plaintiff says.

X claims Media Matters had to exclusively follow a small subset of users posting fringe content and accounts owned by big-name advertisers to generate a feed that would produce the ad pairings. It claims the report resulted in companies like Apple, Comcast, NBCUniversal and IBM pulling their ads from the social network.

"This is a frivolous lawsuit meant to bully X’s critics into silence," Media Matters’ president and chief executive officer Angelo Carusone posted on X Monday night. "Media Matters stands behind its reporting and look forward to winning in court. Onward!"

Carusone accuses Musk of admitting that the ads in questions did run alongside Nazi content.

“Far from the free speech advocate he claims to be, Musk is a bully who threatens meritless lawsuits in an attempt to silence reporting that he even confirmed is accurate,” Carusone said on Nov. 20. “If he does sue us, we will win.”

X CEO Linda Yaccarino asked users to “stand with X” Monday night, posting that she is “committed to truth and fairness.”

“Not a single authentic user on X saw IBM’s, Comcast’s, or Oracle’s ads next to the content in Media Matters’ article,” Yaccarino posted. “Only 2 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.”

X filed its lawsuit hours after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced his office is now investigating Media Matters for “potential fraudulent activity." Paxton, a Republican, called Media Matters a “radical anti-free speech organization."

The company is asking the court for damages and an injunction ordering Media Matters to immediately take down the report. It set forth claims of business disparagement, interference with prospective economic advantage and interference with contract in the complaint.

X is represented by Judd Stone with Stone Hilton in Austin and John Sullivan with SL Law in Cedar Hill, Texas. Stone previously worked for Paxton as Solicitor General of Texas from 2021 to 2023 as the state’s top appellate lawyer. Sullivan is a former Assistant Solicitor General in the same office.

Follow @davejourno
Categories / Courts, Media, Technology

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