Science, Technology, and Social Media

‘Compelling’: Legal Experts Say Elon Musk’s X Has A Good Case Against Media Matters

Billionaire Elon Musk’s social media platform X’s — formerly Twitter — lawsuit against Media Matters could lead to damages for the left-wing group, legal experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Media Matters alleged that advertisements from major advertisers show up on antisemitic content on X on Thursday, according to a report. While the case is not a slam dunk, there is merit to it and it could lead to financial damages and an injunction, experts told the DCNF.

“X has a facially compelling argument for causes of action based on a type of tortious interference with its advertising contracts and business defamation,” Joan Meyer, partner at the law firm Thompson Hine LLP, told the DCNF.

Media Matters’ methodology has come under scrutiny, with X suing the organization and alleging the study was defamatory.

“Media Matters accessed accounts that had been active for at least 30 days, bypassing X’s ad filter for new users,” X’s lawsuit says. “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,” the lawsuit continued.

Several of the X advertisers Media Matters targeted ceased advertising on the platform. Apple, IBM, Lionsgate, Paramount Global, Sony and Warner Bros. Discovery subsequently have all stopped advertising on the platform since the release of the report, according to The New York Times.

If X’s allegations are accurate, it could have a good argument that Media Matters directly caused advertisers to leave the platform based on misleading information, leading to a large revenue loss, experts told the DCNF.

“If this is true and Media Matters deliberately created content by manipulation, X may be able to show that the publication of this content directly resulted in the cancellation of important advertisers that were a significant source of revenue for the company,” Meyer told the DCNF.

Counsel for law firm Lewis Baach Kaufmann Middlemiss Marc Frazier Scholl agreed. “If it can be proved that happened and that the misleading results damaged the victim, damages should be available,” Scholl told the DCNF. “The primary question for the lawsuit is whether intentional conduct occurred to create a false picture that sought to interfere with X’s business relations. Critical is the proof of intent and falsity.”

University of California, Los Angeles Professor Eugene Volokh told the DCNF about “defamation by implication,” which could be an argument X could try to prove in court.

“One argument X could make is in context, [Media Matters’ report] would be understood [to be] the result of kind of normal Twitter use,” Volokh told the DCNF. “And instead, it was actually the result of a deliberate plan, to do things that are extraordinarily unlike how people normally use X … And this has yielded these particular results that have nothing to do with how X actually operates in practice.”

“It’s an uphill battle,” Volokh explained. “Courts are quite skeptical of libel by implication or libel by omission claims, because there’s always some possible claim about how something might be misinterpreted.”

Media Matters has received scrutiny for publishing false information and attempting to censor conservatives. “Media Matters consistently gets away with these types of actions, and it’s refreshing to see someone like Musk call their bluff,” Internet Accountability Project Founder and President Mike Davis told the DCNF. “Taking Media Matters to court will air much of the corrupt entity’s dirty laundry.”

Meyer also stated the venue of the court where X filed the lawsuit may benefit the social media platform. “The case was filed in district court in the Northern District of Texas which presumably is a conservative venue that would be sympathetic to Elon Musk and his complaints of ‘fake news’ organizations that plant stories for political reasons,” Meyer told the DCNF. “If the district court entertains the claims, they could be precedent-setting.”

“X could receive actual and special damages which may be significant for Media Matters,” Meyer added. “Money damages act as a strong deterrent to news organizations peddling false claims.”

Musk and his companies are also facing numerous investigations launched by President Joe Biden’s administration, many of which have occurred since he acquired X — then Twitter — in October 2022. The Federal Trade Commission, Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission are all investigating Musk and his companies.

Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas also announced a fraud probe into Media Matters over the study.

“Opinionated criticism is protected by the First Amendment,” Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression attorney Adam Steinbaugh told the DCNF.  “If X believes Media Matters’ report is unfair, it is free to make its case in the court of public opinion. Instead, X has chosen to use the legal process as a means of imposing a financial cost on a critic. X’s suit is a classic example of a SLAPP — a strategic lawsuit against public participation — and another demonstration of Elon Musk’s fair-weather friendship with free expression.”

X and Media Matters did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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Jason Cohen

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