In the wake of major advertisers pausing their spending on X shortly after Elon Musk‘s reply to an antisemitic conspiracy theory, the social media service formerly known as Twitter has sued left-wing advocacy group Media Matters for allegedly defaming the platform by reporting that ads for major companies appeared next to antisemitic content.
The lawsuit, filed in Texas federal court on Monday, claims that the media watchdog group “knowingly and maliciously manufactured” the report to mislead advertisers into believing that the ad pairings were organic. X seeks monetary damages, as well as a court order directing Media Matters to “immediately delete” the report that led to the exodus of advertisers.
The filing of the lawsuit comes on the heels of Musk posting on Saturday that X would file a “thermonuclear” complaint against Media Matters. The message came in response to the organization issuing findings that the platform was placing ads for major companies such as Apple, NBCUniversal, IBM, Bravo and Oracle “next to content that touts Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party.” Many of those firms — plus Apple, Lionsgate, Warner Bros. Discovery and NBCUniversal — halted ad spending with the service.
Media Matters didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The complaint centers on allegations that the organization “systematically manipulated the X user experience” to issue its report. The social media service claims that Media Matters artificially manufactured the findings by exploiting user features.
“Media Matters did not find pairings that X passively allowed on the platform,” states the suit. “Media Matters created these pairings in secrecy, to manufacture the harmful perception that X is at best an incompetent content moderator, or even worse that X was somehow indifferent or even encouraging to Nazi and racist ideology.”
According to the complaint, users control the content on their feeds by showing interest in certain topics, which in turn generates ads related to those topics. X takes issue with Media Matters representing a “exceedingly (and demonstrably) rare” ad pairing as commonplace. It points to methodology in the report in which the group made a profile that only followed 30 accounts belonging to fringe figures or major national brands, which allegedly tricked the algorithm into thinking that user “wanted to view both hateful content and content from large advertisers.”
“Media Matters exploited these features by creating a secret X account precision-designed to evade normal safeguards, manipulating every aspect of the system through which posts and advertisements appear, ultimately creating the side-by-side images of objectionable content and advertisements,” writes John Sullivan, a lawyer for X, in the suit.
An internal review by X revealed that the Media Matters account altered its scrolling and refreshing activities in an “attempt to manipulate inorganic combination of advertisements and content” when the group didn’t get its desired result, the suit says.
X claims that Media Matters “intended to harm” its revenue stream because it’s the “most prominent online platform that permits users to share all viewpoints, whether liberal or conservative.”
The complaint claims interference with contract, business disparagement, and interference with prospective economic advantage.