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Republican official sues Media Matters for reporting on X’s neo-Nazi content

Elon Musk stands between the logos for X and Twitter
Elon Musk stands between the logos for X and Twitter Photo: Shutterstock

A Republican attorney general is suing a private media watchdog organization after it issued a report on hate speech on X (formerly Twitter), which many on the right took to be an attack on transphobic billionaire Elon Musk, the owner of X.

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey sued Media Matters for allegedly refusing to turn over internal documents related to its 2023 report on the rise of hate speech on X. Media Matters has called Bailey’s lawsuit “meritless, expensive, and harassing.”

Media Matters released a November 2023 report detailing how ads for major brands on X appeared next to user-generated neo-Nazi content. Musk called the report “bogus.” Bailey’s lawsuit marks the second time a Republican AG has sued the group on Musk’s behalf, signaling the political party’s increasing willingness to use the levers of institutional power to persecute organizations for criticizing right-wing figures.

Bailey accused Media Matters of violating the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act, alleging, “Media Matters has used fraud to solicit donations from Missourians in order to trick advertisers into removing their advertisements from X.” He also accused Media Matters of “refusing to cooperate with investigations” by refusing to turn over internal communications and documents relating to its 2023 report.

Bailey is demanding all documents related to the report as well as the identity of all the X accounts cited in it. He also seeks all communications with major businesses who pulled their advertising from X following the report, a Media Matters employee organizational chart, and any communications related to Media Matters’ alleged strategy to get advertisers to leave the site. Bailey is seeking a court order to get the organization to turn over the documents within 20 days.

Musk thanked Bailey for his lawsuit, writing, “Media Matters is doing everything it can to undermine the First Amendment. Truly an evil organization.” Musk had previously sued Media Matters for its report, claiming the group “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.”

“This Missouri investigation is the latest in a transparent endeavor to squelch the First Amendment rights of researchers and reporters; it will have a chilling effect on news reporters,” Media Matters wrote in a statement. “Far from the free speech advocate he claims to be, Elon Musk has actually intensified his efforts to undermine free speech by enlisting Republican attorneys general across the country to initiate meritless, expensive, and harassing investigations against Media Matters in an attempt to punish critics.”

In his statement, Bailey called X “one of the last platforms dedicated to free speech in America,” but this is untrue. While Musk has reinstated right-wing, anti-LGBTQ+, and neo-Nazi accounts that had previously been banned from the platform before he purchased it in October 2022, he has also recently censored users who named a suspected neo-Nazi cartoonist despite allowing a similar behavior — the public targeting pro-LGBTQ+ educators — by the Chaya Raichik, who goes by Libs of TikTok on social media.

Last November, Musk told advertisers who withdrew their support to “Go f**k yourself.” That same month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton opened a similar investigation into Media Matters. Media Matters sued Paxton in January 2024 and asked a federal court to block Paxton’s demand for internal documentation.

“Paxton’s retaliatory campaign has had its intended effect: [Media Matters and other outlets] have not published any articles about how Musk’s ownership has triggered a rise in political extremism on X since Paxton announced his investigation — despite a flood of tips identifying extremist content on the platform — for fear of further retaliation and harassment,” Media Matters wrote in its January lawsuit.

Republican politicians have increasingly retaliated against businesses and organizations that point out right-wing bigotry. In April 2023, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) retaliated against Disney for criticizing his “Don’t Say Gay” law. Disney accused DeSantis of violating its First Amendment rights to free speech.

In July 2023, Musk sued the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) for allegedly making “troubling and baseless claims that appear calculated to harm Twitter generally and its digital advertising business specifically.” CCDH founder and CEO Imran Ahmed said of Musk, “He’s normalizing the idea that hatred against Muslims, Jews, Black people, LGBTQ+ people is acceptable, normal, and tolerable in society.”

A March 2023 CCDH report noted that anti-LGBTQ+ tweets accusing queer people of “grooming” children for abuse increased 119% since Musk’s acquisition of the social media network. Five of the accounts most responsible for pushing anti-LGBTQ+ groomer attacks were set to generate up to $6.4 million per year for Twitter in ad revenues, the CCDH’s report noted.

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