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Musk Threatens Mass Lawsuit

Musk Threatens Mass Lawsuit Amidst Advertisers' Exodus

Lindokuhle Mkhize

Lindokuhle Mkhize

24 November 20234 min read

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Musk Threatens Mass Lawsuit Amidst Advertisers' Exodus

The Royal Society, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

In a social media world tinted with controversies, tech billionaire Elon Musk has declared his intentions to file a massive lawsuit against Media Matters for America and other organizations for what he describes as a "fraudulent attack" on his company. The unfolding drama constitutes a significant chapter in the ongoing saga revolving around Musk's communication platform, X (formerly known as Twitter).

Several companies, including industry heavyweights like IBM, Lionsgate, Paramount, Apple, and Disney, have begun to withdraw their advertisements from X. The departure comes in the wake of Musk's engagement with treasonable rhetoric over the platform - a situation exacerbated by accusations of ads running alongside white supremacist content.

Why are advertisers leaving X?

Media Matters, a liberal media watchdog, was instrumental in unveiling the situation. Through published investigative reports, they spotlighted the dilemma advertisers faced - their promotional content appearing next to white supremacist posts. Furthermore, the European Union joined the mass departure from the platform, halting their advertising on X.

"IBM announced that it's suspending its advertising on X (formerly Twitter) after Media Matters reported that the platform placed its ads next to content promoting Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. IBM isn't alone in having issues when advertising on the platform: Following our report yesterday, we additionally found ads for Amazon, NBA Mexico, NBCUniversal Catalyst, Action Network, and Club for Growth next to white nationalist hashtags like ‘KeepEuropeWhite,’ ‘white pride,’ and ‘WLM’ (‘White Lives Matter’)." The reports further went on to declare:

"X's problem with advertising comes as owner Elon Musk praised the pernicious antisemitic conspiracy theory that Jewish communities are supporting ‘hordes of minorities’ who are ‘flooding’ into the country to replace white people. Musk's endorsement is the latest example of embracing rhetoric and conspiracy theories from the far-right fringes. 

Aside from his rhetoric, Musk has opened the floodgates to hateful content by reversing bans on anti-Muslim bigots, white nationalists, and antisemites. His company has also financially rewarded extremists, including apparently paying $3,000 to a pro-Hitler and Holocaust denial account through X's ad revenue sharing program. (Even after criticism, X has not suspended that openly antisemitic account, which has nearly 100,000 followers.)"

Advertising buys on X come from direct buys or through its partnership with ad exchanges like Google Ads. CEO Linda Yaccarino 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 proactively removes content that violates our policies." Despite these claims, advertisers remain skeptical and are concerned about their brand's association with harmful or offensive content. The challenge for X lies in effectively enforcing its content moderation policies and ensuring brand safety to regain trust from advertisers.

Musk's retaliation

Musk, in retaliation, declared his resolve to fight the battle legally, intending to file a "thermonuclear lawsuit" against Media Matters and all involved in the allegations. Musk claims his platform was misrepresented, with the user experience being twisted to mislead advertisers.

He further alleged that the newsgroup Media Matters manipulated an account to view the white supremacist content and curated rare instances where ads were displayed alongside it. Highlighting the scope of this issue, Musk stated that out of the daily 5.5 billion ad impressions on the site, only 50 were supposedly linked to contentious content.

Content restrictions and the battle for free speech

X has faced significant revenue struggles, with a notable number of advertisers leaving the platform after Musk's takeover in late 2022. Advertisers have grown weary due to relaxed content restrictions, ostensibly paving the way for more offensive material. Musk, however, has stood firm on his stance, branding X as a "free speech platform."

The company emphasized the importance of free speech, asserting it as crucial to preserving democracy. Despite the loud and clear criticism, the media mogul and his company remain steadfast, insisting on protecting free speech. "Brands are now “protected from the risk of being next to' potentially toxic content, [X CEO Linda] Yaccarino said. 

She added that if the content is :”'lawful but awful', it's difficult to remove from the platform. Still, the company's new content controls would reduce advertiser risk.”

Media Matters' objection

Media Matters minced no words in responding to Musk's lawsuit threat. Media Matters president Angelo Carusone released the following statement in response to Elon Musk's legal threat:

“Far from the free speech advocate he claims to be, Musk is a bully who threatens meritless lawsuits to silence reporting that he even confirmed is accurate. Musk admitted the ads at issue ran alongside the pro-Nazi content we identified. If he does sue us, we will win.”

Furthermore, the report exposed Musk's concession to the allegations — his recognition that certain ads did run alongside the contentious pro-Nazi content.

The drama continues with advertisers leaving, a looming lawsuit, and the battle for free speech versus community moderation taking center stage in the public discourse. As Elon Musk faces off against Media Matters and witnesses the departure of advertising partners, the world watches to see how this will reshape social media platforms and the rules of online engagement.

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Lindokuhle Mkhize, a skilled creative copywriter and content lead at Trademarkia, brings a wealth of experience in driving innovation and managing teams. With previous success in starting and growing the Innovation and Marketing department at her former creative agency, Lindokuhle boasts expertise in leadership and delivering compelling content. Based in South Africa, Lindokuhle's work focuses on key themes of creativity, effective communication, and strategic marketing.