Image credits: TechCrunch
Elon Musk’s But the lawsuit appears to confirm what he claims is defamatory.
Media Matters published an article last Thursday with screenshots showing ads from IBM, Apple, Oracle and others appearing alongside hateful content – such as pro-Hitler content.
IBM and Apple have since pulled their ads from X, arguably a blow to a company already facing an exodus of advertisers. (It didn’t help that Musk himself appears to personally support some anti-Semitic views.)
The article angered Musk, and the billionaire vowed over the weekend that “the split-second court will open on Monday, X Corp will file a thermonuclear lawsuit against Media Matters and everyone who has been colluded in this fraudulent attack against our company.
The complaint was indeed filed, but it appears that the promised warhead is missing. You can read it here, it’s quite short. The company alleges that Media Matters defamed X, having “fabricated” or “invented” the images; that she had not “found” the ads as claimed, but rather “had”created these couples in secret. (Emphasis theirs.)
If these images had actually been fabricated or created in the manner that is implied in the language used here, it would indeed be a serious blow to the credibility of Media Matters and its reporting. But X’s lawyers do not want to say that the images were fabricated. In fact, CEO Linda Yaccarino posted today that “only two users saw Apple’s ad alongside the content,” which seems to directly contradict the idea that the associations were fabricated.
Media Matters certainly set up the conditions for these ads to appear by using an older account (no ad filter) and then only following the advertisers’ hate accounts and corporate accounts. Certainly, the number of users who only follow neo-Nazis and big tech brands is limited. But the ads unmistakably appeared in the feed alongside that content, as Yaccarino confirmed.
The lawsuit says these accounts were “known for producing extreme and fringe content,” but they were only demonetized after Media Matters reported them. So X knew they were extreme, but did not demonetize them – this is what the lawsuit expressly states.
So there doesn’t appear to be anything inherently fraudulent or fabricated about the claim that these ads appeared alongside this content. Because they did. It just hadn’t happened to a “genuine user” yet, but the conditions for it to happen weren’t really that strange. Angelo Carusone, who runs Media Matters, also pointed out on X, shortly after Yaccarino’s confirmation, that ads had been placed on a search for “killed Jews.”
Moderating hateful content is obviously incredibly difficult, and most social networks have found it to be a constant struggle against mutating hashtags, usernames, and hateful slang. But Yaccarino had said earlier that brands were “protected from the risk of being exposed” to hateful content. Incompletely, it seems.
The borderline case presented by Media Matters may not be representative of the average user, but it shows something that is perfectly possible on risk. Even those who were not mentioned, X’s lawyers write:
Media Matters’ manipulation has been so severe that companies that weren’t even featured in the article have also removed ads from X. These companies include Lionsgate, Warner Bros. Discovery, Paramount and Sony.
This is probably not true. For example, Lionsgate specifically stated that “Elon’s tweet” was the reason for their decision to leave.
The lawsuit, filed in the Northern District Court of Texas, seeks $100,000 in damages and a jury trial, although neither outcome appears likely.