Missouri AG sues Media Matters over its X research, demands donor names

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A photo of Elon Musk next to the logo for X, the social network formerly known as Twitter,.

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Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey yesterday sued Media Matters in an attempt to protect Elon Musk and X from the nonprofit watchdog group’s investigations into hate speech on the social network.¬†Bailey’s lawsuit claims that “Media Matters has used fraud to solicit donations from Missourians in order to trick advertisers into removing their advertisements from X, formerly Twitter, one of the last platforms dedicated to free speech in America.”

Bailey didn’t provide much detail on the alleged fraud but claimed that Media Matters is guilty of “fraudulent manipulation of data on X.com.” That’s apparently a reference to Media Matters reporting that X placed ads for major brands next to posts touting Hitler and Nazis. X has accused Media Matters of manipulating the site’s algorithm by endlessly scrolling and refreshing.

Bailey yesterday issued an investigative demand seeking names and addresses of all Media Matters donors who live in Missouri and a range of internal communications and documents regarding the group’s research on Musk and X. Bailey anticipates that Media Matters won’t provide the requested materials, so he filed the lawsuit asking Cole County Circuit Court for an order to enforce the investigative demand.

“Because Media Matters has refused such efforts in other states and made clear that it will refuse any such efforts, the Attorney General seeks an order… compelling Media Matters to comply with the CID [Civil Investigative Demand] within 20 days,” the lawsuit said.

Media Matters slams Musk and Missouri AG

Media Matters, which is separately fighting similar demands made by Texas, responded to Missouri’s legal action in a statement provided to Ars today.

“Far from the free speech advocate he claims to be, Elon Musk has actually intensified his efforts to undermine free speech by enlisting Republican attorneys general across the country to initiate meritless, expensive, and harassing investigations against Media Matters in an attempt to punish critics,” Media Matters President Angelo Carusone said. “This Missouri investigation is the latest in a transparent endeavor to squelch the First Amendment rights of researchers and reporters; it will have a chilling effect on news reporters.”

Musk thanked Bailey for filing the lawsuit in a post that said, “Media Matters is doing everything it can to undermine the First Amendment. Truly an evil organization.”

Bailey is seeking the names and addresses of all Media Matters donors from Missouri since January 1, 2023, and the amounts of each donation. He wants all promotional or marketing material sent to potential donors and documents showing how the donations were used.

Ads next to pro-Nazi content

Several of Bailey’s demands relate to the Media Matters article titled, “As Musk endorses antisemitic conspiracy theory, X has been placing ads for Apple, Bravo, IBM, Oracle, and Xfinity next to pro-Nazi content.” Bailey wants all “documents related to the article, or to the events described in the article.”

The Media Matters article displayed images of advertisements next to pro-Nazi posts. Musk previously sued Media Matters over the article, claiming the group “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.”

X said Media Matters did this by “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.”

X also sued the Center for Countering Digital Hate, but the lawsuit was thrown out by a federal judge yesterday.

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