Elon Musk followed through with his threat to sue Media Matters Tuesday after the nonprofit reported last week that Twitter/X “has been placing ads for major brands next to content that touts Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party.” This resulted in several major advertisers, including Disney, Paramount, NBCUniversal, Comcast, and Lionsgate, pulling their ads from the site.
The suit was expected. The location the company filed it—in a Texas federal court—was a bit less so. And the flanking support Musk got in his fight against Media Matters by state attorneys general was even more of a surprise.
Neither Twitter/X nor Media Matters is based in Texas. The suit justifies the location of the filing by saying “Plaintiff conducts significant business in Texas, including maintaining significant offices in Texas.” Additionally, it added, “a substantial part of the events giving rise to the claims occurred herein because a substantial part of the property that is subject of the action—that is, X’s business and advertising—is situated in the district.”
While Musk, who has a home in Texas, did tease moving Twitter’s headquarters to the state last year, that never occurred. There have been no reports of the company’s advertising unit being relocated to the state either. (Twitter/X did not respond to a query by Fast Company.)
Just as the suit was filed, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced his office had launched an investigation into Media Matters for “potentially fraudulent activity.” Paxton, in a press release announcing the investigation, referred to the left-leaning nonprofit as “a radical anti-free speech organization.”
“We are examining the issue closely to ensure that the public has not been deceived by the schemes of radical left-wing organizations who would like nothing more than to limit freedom by reducing participation in the public square,” said Paxton.
Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey posted Sunday on Twitter/X that his team was also looking into the matter.
Twitter/X and Paxton concede that the images Media Matters showed of the ads appearing adjacent to pro-Nazi content were, in fact, real. The social media company’s suit, however, alleges Media Matters “manipulated” the site to make the ads appear.
“Media Matters has 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, leaving the false impression that these pairings are anything but what they actually are: manufactured, inorganic, and extraordinarily rare,” it reads.
It alleges the nonprofit followed 30 accounts made up only of controversial users and large companies, then “excessive[ly]” scrolled and refreshed the site, which led to the ads appearing next to the content. The report’s intention, the suit claims, was to hurt Twitter/X’s advertising sales.
The case has been assigned to District Judge Mark Pittman, a Donald Trump appointee whose previous rulings include blocking President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan and declaring a Texas law banning people ages 18 to 20 from carrying handguns in public was unconstitutional.
Also, by filing in the state, the case can be heard by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has backed several conservative figures who claim they’ve been censored in the past.
Despite that, legal experts have said the case is unlikely to go in Twitter/X’s favor in the long run, with some likening it more to a publicity stunt than a legal matter.
That might explain the filing a bit more, too. By filing the case in federal court, Twitter/X was able to bypass Texas’s anti-SLAPP law, which is meant to discourage lawsuits intended to limit speech. As for the investigation by Paxton’s office, the attorney general has been the subject of many First Amendment complaints himself: everything from Yelp, which said he was trying to punish it for providing users information about crisis pregnancy centers, to Texas citizens, who sued him in 2021 for blocking them based on critical tweets.