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Elon Musk has an ever-deepening crisis on his hands.
Days after the billionaire conspiracy theorist endorsed an antisemitic post on his hate-drenched platform, X, there is mounting pressure for others to take additional action against the unhinged businessman.
Musk’s attention, however, has not been focused on profusely apologizing to the public for his reprehensible remarks, nor has it been on ensuring his advertisers that he takes their complaints seriously. Instead, it has been on threatening and trying to exact revenge on critics.
It’s a critical juncture for the Musk-owned company. Here are six questions about the calamity besieging X:
What is Musk doing with his lawsuit against Media Matters? Musk on Monday made good on his threat to file a lawsuit against the progressive media watchdog after lashing out over a report the group published last week showing that X had placed advertisements directly adjacent to neo-Nazi content. But Musk has effectively confirmed that the Media Matters report was accurate and that X did run ads against hateful content, which seems to take the teeth out of his complaint. “This lawsuit is riddled with legal flaws, and it is highly ironic that a platform that touts itself as a beacon of free speech would file a bogus case like this that flatly contradicts basic First Amendment principles and targets free speech by a critic,” First Amendment attorney Ted Boutrous told me. “And in some ways it’s a dream come true for the people at Media Matters because it could allow them to use the litigation discovery process to force X to divulge all sorts of embarrassing, damaging private information that it would much rather keep secret.” Angelo Carusone, the president of Media Matters, responded in a statement, “This is a frivolous lawsuit meant to bully X’s critics into silence. Media Matters stands behind its reporting and looks forward to winning in court.”
Why is X still placing ads on the account of the internet’s most notorious white supremacist account? In October, a Reliable Sources review found that X had placed ads for a cohort of major companies and organizations on the verified profile account of VDARE, an openly racist, white supremacist outlet that publishes some of the most vile content on the internet. Well over a month later, X is continuing to serve up ads on the account. In fact, after the Israel-Hamas war broke out, I even noticed X had placed an ad for the official @Israel account on VDARE, which pumps out some of the most reprehensible antisemitic poison on the internet. How is this acceptable while claiming to care about brand safety? I asked an X representative, but did not get an answer.
Will Linda Yaccarino stay at X? Marketing industry veteran Lou Paskalis, the founder and chief executive of marketing consultancy AJL Advisory, confirmed to Clare Duffy and me on Monday that there has been a “groundswell” of advertising executives urging her to call it quits, in an effort to save her reputation. “She believes that she can mother Elon Musk into someone who could be respected by the advertising community, and that ship has definitely sailed,” Paskalis told us. “But she’s not going to come off the mechanical bull without all of us telling her, ‘It’s time to go.’ And I believe that there has been a groundswell of a lot of people such as myself saying, ‘save yourself.’” Yaccarino has indicated that, for now, she’s not going anywhere. Will that change?
How long will the NFL remain silent? The NFL is one of X’s top advertisers and media partners. But the entertainment powerhouse has remained entirely silent amid the backlash against Musk over his antisemitic embrace. Earlier this year, the NFL expressed concern when a Media Matters report found its ads were appearing next to accounts belonging to racists. But it has not said a word since, even as X continued placing ads for NFL teams onto VDARE’s account. I reached out to the NFL on Monday for comment, but have yet to hear back.
Will news outlets pull ads? Several news organizations continue to send Musk ad dollars amid his antisemitic endorsement and appalling attacks on the free press. On Monday, I spotted ads for The Washington Post and the Financial Times on the platform. Neither outlet returned comment when I reached out. The institutions that are supposed to speak truth to power apparently have no interest in doing so here. But a couple have taken action. Axios has paused advertising on X, a person familiar with the matter told me. And TechCrunch also paused a small spend, I’m told. It’s unclear whether The New York Times is continuing to send ad dollars to X. Spokespeople for The NYT did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.
When will newsrooms disassociate from X? It’s astonishing that some news organizations are comfortable sending Musk advertising dollars as they simultaneously report on his shameful behavior and the hate ballooning on his platform. But it is also striking that so many journalists and newsrooms continue to serve as cogs in the Musk machine, providing him the veneer of credibility by posting a stream of endless free content on X. As Casey Newton told The WaPo, “This is not a place where you should be going to get news or to discuss news or to have a good time. It is just over. If you wouldn’t join Gab, or Parler, or Truth Social, there’s no reason you should be on X. I think it’s time for journalists and publishers, in particular, to acknowledge the new reality and to get the heck off that website.” Newton said that his publication, Platformer, will no longer post on X or link to content on the website. We made a similar decision, pulling the Reliable Sources brand off X in July and ceased linking to content on the platform in early October. The endorsement of hate speech, conspiracy theories, and anti-press sentiment flows from the very top. Why offer tacit support by engaging with and promoting the platform?
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