Some legal experts are criticizing Elon Musk’s lawsuit targeting the watchdog group Media Matters, saying the complaint filed Monday by X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, conflicts with the First Amendment and could backfire dramatically — if it advances at all.
The lawsuit filed Monday accuses Media Matters of publishing a report that distorted the likelihood of ads appearing alongside extremist content on X, a move the social media company says prompted major advertisers and influencers to collectively suspend their campaigns. The company claims the group’s testing methodology was not representative of how real users experience the site and is calling for a judge to force Media Matters to remove the analysis.
Ted Boutros, a First Amendment lawyer with years of experience dealing with the tech industry, told CNN that the case appears to be a “sham” attempt to appease criticism in a way that is “blatantly inconsistent with basic First Amendment principles.” Boutros added that the case could backfire on
The lawsuit also contains “fatal flaws” by acknowledging that the ads did, in fact, appear alongside extremist content, regardless of how Media Matters achieved that outcome, according to Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas and a CNN contributor.
“The complaint acknowledges that the very thing that Media Matters has been discussing has actually happened,” Vladeck said. “Most companies wouldn’t want their ads to appear next to neo-Nazi content even once, nor would they care about the exact percentage of users who encounter such a side-by-side placement.”
Contrary to the complaint, Media Matters “never claimed that what it found was typical of other users’ experience,” Vladeck added.
But although some analysts deride the lawsuit as weak on the merits, they are not ruling out the possibility of moving forward, thanks to X’s apparently deliberate decision to file suit in a Texas court that is generally seen as favorable to his cause.
On Monday, X’s case was assigned to District Judge Mark Pittman, a Donald Trump appointee who previously served on the court The center of some of the country’s biggest legal battles, including over gun rights and President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan.
Legal experts say the big question is whether Musk’s choice of venue — the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas — can help him overcome some of the lawsuit’s fundamental shortcomings.
In accusing Media Matters of distorting the truth, X alleged that the group misrepresented how likely advertisers’ ads were to appear against pro-Nazi or white supremacist content. According to Musk, Media Matters created a test account that tracks extremist material, then updated the feed so that X’s advertising system would show ads for major brands.
X did not appear to question the fact that X monetized extremist content or that brand ads ran alongside it.
“X acknowledges that ads have been shown next to hateful content, but argues that was rare,” X said. John Donovan, professor of journalism and emerging media studies at Boston University. “This is the same strategy used by advertisers that led YouTube to demonize political content in 2017.”
Akiva Cohen, a litigation attorney at Kamerman, Uncyk, Soniker & Klein in New York, noted that while Musk has historically relied on huge law firms in his other cases — such as the lawsuit he filed with Twitter over the original acquisition and against former Twitter employees — in In this case, it depends on a much smaller company.
“All those big companies that Elon usually uses? They’ve probably gone to hell, no, are you out of your mind? That’s a bad idea,” Cohen said in a post on BlueSky Alternative X.
“He went with politically connected lawyers in Texas, which reflects the extent to which people believe Texas courts are political actors, not legal actors,” Cohen added. “All three attorneys in that distinguished group have backgrounds with the Texas AG’s office or the Solicitor General’s Office.”
As it happened, immediately after Musk’s lawsuit on Monday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced a fraud investigation into Media Matters. Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey posted on X that his office was doing the same thing, which is what Musk said. He responded: “great!”
Vladeck said Musk’s selection of the court reveals an attempt to “support a claim that is weak on the merits with a judiciary that is likely to be sympathetic even to weak claims.” “It’s one of those lawsuits that is filed more for symbolism than substance.”
In a statement Monday evening, Media Matters President Angelo Carosone pledged to defend the group against the lawsuit.
“This is a frivolous lawsuit designed to silence critics of X,” Carosone said. “Media Matters stands by its reporting and looks forward to prevailing in court.”
Some legal experts have suggested that Media Matters’ first action may be to try to move the case out of federal court in Texas. X is headquartered in California, while Media Matters is headquartered in Washington, DC. Vladeck said the Texas court reflects “the absence of any logical connection to the dispute.”
If the case is not moved out of Texas, the court’s apparent intentional choice could work in X’s favor by preventing Media Matters from taking advantage of state laws in California and the District of Columbia designed to limit litigation aimed at suppressing criticism. So-called “anti-SLAPP” laws don’t apply in the federal appeals court that oversees Texas, said Ken White, a Los Angeles-based First Amendment attorney.
“X filed this in federal court in Texas to avoid enforcement of the anti-SLAPP law,” White said on BlueSky, adding: “X’s goal is to harass, abuse, and maximize the cost of litigation, and anti-SLAPP laws run counter to that.” Goal.”
Nora Benavidez, senior counsel at the civil rights group Free Press, said that even if Musk could somehow convince the court to question Media Matters’ methodology, that does not prove that the Media Matters report was directly responsible for the advertiser revolt. So far, none of the brands that have paused advertising on X have directly cited the Media Matters analysis as the reason for their decision.
“Musk and his lawyers are seeking to dismiss the Media Matters investigation as the sole reason why major advertisers are joining the exodus from X,” Benavidez told CNN. “But these big brands are not naive.” “Not only did they see their ads placed next to disgusting content, but they also witnessed Musk’s hateful online behavior, including the amplification of anti-Semitic posts by bigots and other bullies on the platform.”
She added that brands “have every right to exercise their own rights to freedom of expression when deciding how to spend their advertising dollars.”
CNN’s Oliver Darcy and John Passantino contributed to this report