‘Free Speech Absolutist’ Elon Musk Promises To Sue Media Matters To Silence Their Speech

from the new-champion-in-free-speech-hypocrisy dept

The fakest “free speech absolutist” who ever lived is at it again. As you may recall, earlier this year, Elon Musk sued the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) claiming that its report documenting an alleged “surge of hateful content” on exTwitter somehow violated contracts (after first threatening to sue for defamation, but not actually suing for defamation).

Just last Thursday, CCDH filed its anti-SLAPP motion in that case.

Apparently unhappy with how it is faring in the marketplace of ideas, X Corp. asks this Court to shut that marketplace down—to punish the CCDH Defendants for their speech and to silence others who might speak up about X Corp. in the future. Thus, X Corp. seeks “at least tens of millions of dollars” in damages based on how advertisers reacted to what the CCDH Defendants said about X Corp. in their public reports. Conspicuously, X Corp. has not asserted a defamation claim—understandably so, since it cannot allege that the CCDH Defendants said anything knowingly false, nor does it wish to invite discovery on the truth about the content on its platform. Instead, X Corp. has ginned up baseless claims purporting to take issue with how the CCDH Defendants gathered data that formed the basis for their research and publications. Each theory is flimsier and more absurd than the last….


X Corp.’s claims are riddled with legal deficiencies on their own terms. They also all share one fundamental flaw: at its core, X Corp.’s grievance is not that the CCDH Defendants gathered public data in violation of obscure (and largely imagined) contract terms, but that they criticized X Corp. (forcefully) to the public. In essence, X Corp. seeks to dodge the requirements that the First Amendment imposes on defamation claims by asserting other claims that are no less entwined with the CCDH Defendants’ speech.

What happens in that case will be interesting to follow. As we’ve noted, we’ve frequently disagreed with CCDH’s research, and think they’re prone to exaggeration and misunderstanding. But that doesn’t mean they can’t say what they want to say. The marketplace of ideas that Musk keeps pretending to support would mean that he has every opportunity to reply. But suing is using the power of the state to silence speech, and that’s what the 1st Amendment is supposed to stop.

But “free speech absolutist” Elon Musk simply cannot stand anyone criticizing him at all.

As you likely know, on Thursday, Media Matters released a report detailing how they found big name advertisers’ ads next to blatant neo-Nazi content. This came just a day after Elon wholeheartedly endorsed the ridiculous made up antisemitic “replacement theory” trope.

Soon after that happened, as we noted, IBM pulled its advertising from exTwitter. All day Friday there were more and more reports of big advertisers pulling their ads, including Apple (which has been one of the biggest, if not the biggest advertiser left on exTwitter). Also pausing ads: Disney (another big one), Comcast/NBCUniversal, Lionsgate, Warner Bros. Discovery, Paramount, Sony Pictures… and even the EU?

The movie studios were big advertisers on the site, so that’s gotta hurt.

But rather than trying to be better, on Friday night Elon went into typical Elon mode. He announced on exTwitter a plan to sue Media Matters first thing Monday morning (this morning):


If you can’t read that, it’s Elon posting a poorly edited document (which we’ll get to in a moment) and tweeting:

The split second court opens on Monday, X Corp will be filing a thermonuclear lawsuit against Media Matters and ALL those who colluded in this fraudulent attack on our company.

Their board, their donors, their network of dark money, all of them …

So, um, first of all, as threatened, this is a SLAPP suit. A blatant SLAPP suit and a clearly vexatious one. Also, under what fucked up theory of liability does one get to sue Media Matters’ board and donors? This is not how any of this works.

Now, let’s get to the document in the image. Here’s what it says, broken up with some commentary:

Stand with X to protect free speech

This week Media Matters for America posted a story that completely misrepresented the real user experience on X, in another attempt to undermine freedom of speech and mislead advertisers.

Above everything, including profit, X works to protect the public’s right to free speech. But for speech to be truly free, we must also have the freedom to see or hear things that some people may consider objectionable. We believe that everyone has the right to make up their own minds about what to read, watch, or listen to – because that’s the power of freedom of speech.

Despite our clear and consistent position, X has seen a number of attacks from activist groups like Media Matters and legacy media outlets who seek to undermine freedom of expression on our platform because they perceive it as a threat to their ideological narrative and those of their financial supporters. These groups try to use their influence to attack our revenue streams by deceiving advertisers on X.

Hey, free speech absolutist: activists using their free speech to criticize you is free fucking speech too. It’s hilariously hypocritical that Musk says here that “for speech to be truly free, we must also have the freedom to see or hear things that some people may consider objectionable”… in an announcement of a plan to sue an organization for speech Musk personally finds objectionable.

Similarly you do not actually “believe that everyone has the right to make up their own minds about what to read, watch, or listen, to” when you are making that claim in a document about how you are going to sue an organization to remove them from that marketplace of ideas, such that people are not, in fact, able to make up their mind. You’re seeking to silence someone for their speech.

Here are the facts on Media Matters’ research:

  • To manipulate the public and advertisers, Media Matters created an alternate account and curated the posts and advertising appearing on the account’s timeline to misinform advertisers about the placement of their posts. These contrived experiences could be applied to any platform.
  • Once they curated their feed, they repeatedly refreshed their timelines to find a rare instance of ads serving next to the content they chose to follow. Our logs indicate that they forced a scenario resulting in 13 times the number of ads served compared to the median ads served to an X user.
  • Of the 5.5 billion ad impressions on X that day, less than 50 total ad impressions were served against all of the organic content featured in the Media Matters article.
    • For one brand showcased in the article, one of its ads ran adjacent to a post 2 times and that ad was seen in that setting by only two users, one of which was the author of the Media Matters article.
    • For another brand showcased in the article, two of its ads served adjacent to 2 posts, times, and that ad was only seen in that setting by one user, the author of the Media Matters article.
  • Media Matters’ article also highlights nine posts they believe should not be allowed on X. Upon evaluation, only one of the nine organic posts featured in the article violated our content policies, and we’ve taken action on it under our Freedom of Speech, Not Reach enforcement approach.

So, in a true “marketplace of ideas” you present those points, and then you let everyone “make up their own minds” about what to believe. You don’t sue. Suing over such speech is anti-free speech.

But, here’s the real kicker: in this post, Musk admits that what they published was in fact what happened. The fact that they may have set up a special account and tried to just follow sketchy accounts does not change the facts. They saw blatant neo-Nazi content on the site and it had ads next to it from big name advertisers.

In other words, in this screed, Elon is flat out admitting that Media Matters’ report was factually accurate. He’s only disputing their interpretation of those facts. And… that’s not defamatory.

Also, admitting that 8 out of the 9 neo-Nazi posts they called out are fine under your policies is not quite the claim you think it is.

Here’s a summary on this all:

1. X will protect the public’s right to free expression. We will not allow agenda-driven activists, or even our own profits, to deter our vision.

Except if that public points out things that make Elon mad. Then, free expression is out the window. What a fucking hypocrite.

2. Everyone has a choice on X. User and brand control on X is superior to a year ago.

Everyone, that is, except for activists who criticize you. Those people get sued with a SLAPP suit designed to silence them.

3. Data wins over allegations. Media Matters does not reflect the user experience on X.

The data shows that their report was accurate. You just disagree with their interpretation. Which, again, is free speech.

As we’ve seen in some parts of the world, when free expression is taken away, it is very dangerous and hard to get back – that’s why the people who came before us fought so hard to protect. Without freedom of speech we lose the checks and balances critical to a thriving democracy. We must defend our individual rights as if our lives, and flourishing society, depend on it.

Yes. This is why we need strong anti-SLAPP laws at both the state and federal level to stop this kind of nonsense. What Elon is doing here is not “defending free speech,” it’s literally attacking it.

If you’re really in on protecting free speech, then we all need to protect it completely.

Stand with X to protect free speech.

… “by suing a non-profit for speech that criticizes us.”

This is not free speech at all. This is Elon believing that free speech is only the speech he likes, and anything that criticizes exTwitter must be against free speech, because it drives support away from exTwitter which (in his mind alone) is fighting for free speech. This is authoritarian bullshit. It’s “we have to kill these protestors to protect our freedoms” kind of nonsense.

Also, Elon, the advertisers pulling their ads? It’s not because of Media Matters. It’s because you fucking endorsed a bonkers antisemitic conspiracy theory the same week. Part of free speech is the right not to associate with speech. Companies criticizing you is free speech. Same thing when companies choose not to associate with you.

And, not surprisingly, Elon’s biggest fans are cheering this on. A bunch of bluechecks cheering him on for “fighting for free speech” by… promising to sue an organization for its free speech. These people are delusional.


It sure seems like all their “free speech” support is pretty fucking conditional on whether or not they like the speech, huh?

And, because these stories can always get dumber, on Sunday there was an exchange in which someone (falsely) suggested that what Media Matters did (signing up for an account, following neo-Nazis, reporting that they saw ads) is the equivalent of fraud (it’s not). And that resulted in world’s worst human being candidate Stephen Miller tweeting that “fraud is both civil and criminal” and suggesting that “conservative state Attorneys General” should look into it, because he doesn’t even remotely care one bit about pretending that he’s not talking about having law enforcement prosecute speech because of ideological differences.

Musk, who I must remind you pretends to be a “free speech absolutist”, responded to Miller’s blatant call for having “conservative” AGs file criminal charges over speech because of ideological differences by cheering it on, followed by Missouri’s Andrew Bailey saying that his team was investigating:

Here’s where I remind you that AG Bailey is one of the two state AGs leading the case (currently before the Supreme Court) arguing that “the government should never try to influence how social media moderates.” That case started out as Missouri v. Biden (though the Supreme Court version is Murthy v. Missouri). Either way, Bailey is AG of Missouri.

So his argument appears to be “the Biden administration cannot pressure social media, but the Missouri government absolutely can.” Or, more accurately “it’s unconstitutional when Democrats do it, but it’s absolutely fine when Republicans do.”

I’m curious to see if any of those supporting Missouri’s case will admit that Bailey is a fucking hypocrite here?

Anyway, we’re posting this Monday morning, though as Ken White helpfully pointed out to Elon, you don’t have to fucking wait until Monday morning to file a lawsuit in the age of electronic filings:


So, who knows, it’s possible the lawsuit has already been filed (though, as Ken pointed out over on Bluesky, “only a twat would rush to file a complicated lawsuit.”) However, I’m traveling today, so if an actual lawsuit was filed, I’ll find out about it later, and see what (if anything) is worth covering some other time.

Filed Under: advertisers, andrew bailey, antisemitism, elon musk, free speech, marketplace of ideas, slapp suits, threats

Companies: apple, disney, ibm, media matters, twitter, x

Source : https://www.techdirt.com/2023/11/20/free-speech-absolutist-elon-musk-promises-to-sue-media-matters-to-silence-their-speech/

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