X lawsuit accuses Media Matters of running a campaign to drive advertisers away from its website

X has filed a lawsuit against media watchdog group Media Matters over the latter’s research that showed ads on the social network appearing next to antisemitic content. The company’s owner, Elon Musk, promised to file a “thermonuclear lawsuit” against the organization late last week following an advertiser exodus. In its complaint, X said 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 national fringe content.” It added that the group portrayed the “manufactured images” as if they represented the typical user’s experience in the platform. “Media Matters designed both these images and the resulting media strategy to drive advertisers from the platform and destroy X Corp,” the company wrote.

As TechCrunch notes, though, Media Matters didn’t exactly “manufacture” the images it used with its research. Based on X’s own investigation as it detailed in its lawsuit, the organization used an account older than 30 days to bypass the website’s ad filters to follow a set of users known to produce “extreme, fringe content” along with the biggest advertisers on the platform. The group then allegedly kept on scrolling and refreshing its feed to generate “between 13 to 15 times more advertisements per hour than viewed by the average X user.” X said the watchdog didn’t provide any context regarding the “forced, inauthentic nature” of the advertisements it saw.”

In a response to Media Matters’ research, X CEO Linda Yaccarino said “not a single authentic user on X saw IBM’s, Comcast’s, or Oracle’s ads next to the content in Media Matters’ article.” She added that “only two users saw Apple’s ad next to the content, at least one of which was Media Matters,” confirming that the organization did see the advertisements, even if it had to create the right conditions for them. After Yaccarino released her statement, Media Matters head Angelo Carusone retweeted several posts from seemingly authentic users showing ads for searches and tags such as “killjews” and “HeilHitler.” We reached out to the organization about the lawsuit, and a spokesperson told Engadget: “This is a frivolous lawsuit meant to bully X’s critics into silence. Media Matters stands behind its reporting and looks forward to winning in court.”

Aside from X’s lawsuit, Media Matters also has to grapple with an investigation by Ken Paxton, the Attorney General of Texas. Paxton said his office is looking into Media Matters, which he called “a radical anti-free speech” organization, for potential fraudulent activity. He said he’s investigating the watchdog to “ensure that the public has not been deceived by the schemes of radical left-wing organizations who would like nothing more than to limit freedom by reducing participation in the public square.”

The media watchdog had published its findings after X owner Elon Musk responded to a tweet that said Jews pushed “hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them.” Musk wrote: “You have said the actual truth.” Several big-name advertisers had pulled their campaigns from the platform following the incidents, including IBM, Apple, Disney, Paramount and Comcast. Meanwhile, Lionsgate specifically cited Elon’s tweet as the reason for pulling its ads.

According to Fortune, Yaccarino held an all-hands meeting after X filed the lawsuit to confirm to staff members that some customers’ advertisements are still on pause. When asked about what the best outcome for the lawsuit would be, the CEO said a win would validate that X was right.

“They have a long history of being an activist organization, to force a narrative and not allow people of the world to make their own decisions,” she reportedly responded. “I think one of the main goals that underscores the dedication to truth and fairness and that is that we allow people a global Town Square, to seek out their own information and make their own decisions. So exposing Media Matters to train people’s rights to make their own decisions will be a validation that X was right, and this was an inauthentic manipulation.”

Update, November 21, 2023, 12:14AM ET: Added information from Fortune’s report about X’s all-hands meeting.

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