Last Friday Elon Musk threated to sue Media Matters over its report about ads appearing next to neo-Nazi content. Yesterday he followed up his initial tweet about the lawsuit with this one calling what Media Matters did a scam.
They pulled a scam
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 19, 2023
Musk said the lawsuit would happen Monday once courts were open and while it seems to have taken a few extra hours the lawsuit has now been filed.
Elon Musk, as promised, is hauling Media Matters into court — alleging the liberal watchdog group “knowingly and maliciously manufactured” images depicting neo-Nazi and white-nationalist posts on X next to major marketers’ ads.
The complaint seeks unspecified monetary damages, as well as an injunction requiring Media Matters to “immediately delete, take down or otherwise remove” the article titled “As Musk endorses antisemitic conspiracy theory, X has been placing ads for Apple, Bravo, IBM, Oracle, and Xfinity next to pro-Nazi content.”…
According to X’s lawsuit, Media Matters aimed to portray the Musk-owned social platform “as being dominated by ‘white nationalist and antisemitic conspiracy theories,’” per the complaint. “This November alone Media Matters released over twenty articles (and counting) disparaging both X Corp. and Elon Musk — a blatant smear campaign.”
Ed wrote about Musk’s chances here and I can’t say I really disagree with his logic. Media companies have a lot of leeway when it comes to claims they publish. As long as the content wasn’t completely false, Media Matters has a reasonable chance to win in court.
That said, there’s another way to view this. The lawsuit is already getting tremendous media attention and while it will lead to a repetition of Media Matters’ claims about X, it will also lead to more information about their sketchy methods the site used to produce these results. This comes from the complaint filed by X Corp.
For the last several years, Media Matters has falsely portrayed Twitter, now X, as a risky, unsafe platform for advertisers. Contrary to these efforts, 99% of X’s measured ad placement in 2023 has appeared adjacent to content scoring above the Global Alliance for Responsible Media’s brand safety floor.
Undeterred by the truth, Media Matters has opted for new tactics in its campaign to drive advertisers from X. Media Matters has manipulated the algorithms governing the user experience on X to bypass safeguards and create images of X’s largest advertisers’ 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.
Media Matters executed this plot in multiple steps, as X’s internal investigations have revealed. First, Media Matters accessed accounts that had been active for at least 30 days, bypassing X’s ad filter for new users. Media Matters then exclusively followed a small subset of users consisting entirely of accounts in one of two categories: those known to produce extreme, fringe content, and accounts owned by X’s big-name advertisers. The end result was a feed precision-designed by Media Matters for a single purpose: to produce side-by-side ad/content placements that it could screenshot in an effort to alienate advertisers.
But this activity still was not enough to create the pairings of advertisements and content that Media Matters aimed to produce.
Media Matters therefore resorted to endlessly scrolling and refreshing its unrepresentative, hand-selected feed, generating between 13 and 15 times more advertisements per hour than viewed by the average X user repeating this inauthentic activity until it finally received pages containing the result it wanted: controversial content next to X’s largest advertisers’ paid posts.
Media Matters omitted mentioning any of this in a report published on November 16, 2023 that displayed instances Media Matters “found” on X of advertisers’ paid posts featured next to Neo-Nazi and white-nationalist content. Nor did Media Matters otherwise provide any context regarding the forced, inauthentic nature and extraordinary rarity of these pairings.
However, relying on the specious narrative propagated by Media Matters, the advertisers targeted took these pairings to be anything but rare and inorganic, with all but one of the companies featured in the Media Matters piece withdrawing all ads from X, including Apple, Comcast, NBCUniversal, and IBM—some of X’s largest advertisers. Indeed, in pulling all advertising from X in response to this intentionally deceptive report, IBM called the pairings an “entirely unacceptable situation.”2 Only Oracle did not withdraw its ads.
The truth bore no resemblance to Media Matters’ narrative. In fact, IBM’s, Comcast’s, and Oracle’s paid posts appeared alongside the fringe content cited by Media Matters for only one viewer (out of more than 500 million) on all of X: Media Matters. Not a single authentic user of the X platform saw IBM’s, Comcast’s, or Oracle’s ads next to that content, which Media Matters achieved only through its manipulation of X’s algorithms as described above. And in Apple’s case, only two out of more than 500 million active users saw its ad appear alongside the fringe content cited in the article—at least one of which was Media Matters.
Media Matters could have produced a fair, accurate account of users’ interactions with advertisements on X via basic reporting: following real users, documenting the actual, organic production of content and advertisement pairings. Had it done so, however, it would not have produced the outcome Media Matters so desperately desired, which was to tarnish X’s reputation by associating it with racist content. So instead, Media Matters chose to maliciously misrepresent the X experience with the intention of harming X and its business.
So the ads did appear next to neo-Nazi content, but it appears Media Matters was the only person/entity in the world who saw it and only then thanks to careful manipulation of the site to produce this specific result.
The fact that X is suing rather than apologizing might convince some advertisers that this really was a stunt by Media Matters and not an accurate representation of who is seeing ads on the site. X may not win this lawsuit in court but if it can win to some degree in the court of public opinion, or even with the narrow subset of big advertisers, this might be a fight worth having. Indeed, Musk’s main message seems to be that Media Matters is “pure evil.”
Media Matters is pure evil https://t.co/gIV1rHO9d7
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 20, 2023
Media Matters is pure evil https://t.co/9bdMWyczs6
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 20, 2023