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Advertisers leave Elon Musk's X after their ads appeared next to pro-Nazi posts

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There is yet more drama at X, the site formerly known as Twitter. The company is suing a media watchdog group called Media Matters. The suit was filed after the nonprofit published a report showing that certain ads had appeared next to pro-Nazi posts. Last week, a number of major companies announced that they would suspend advertising on the platform over concerns about content. Media Matters calls the suit, quote, "frivolous." It's been more than a year since billionaire Elon Musk took control of the social media giant and it has been a roller coaster since. Joining us now to tell us more about all this is Wired senior writer Lauren Goode, who's been following this story. Welcome.

LAUREN GOODE: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: So Disney, Apple and IBM all said that they were going to stop advertising on X after the Media Matters report and after Elon Musk retweeted a baseless, antisemitic conspiracy theory on X last week. What's the latest on that? Are any of these advertisers suggesting that they might reconsider?

GOODE: People have been keeping an eye on whether the content on Twitter would change in such a way that it would deter advertisers from spending money to put their ads on X. And I think what we saw last week was a tipping point, because not only were these major brands starting to notice that their ads were appearing next to incredibly concerning, pro-Nazi content, but Musk himself didn't really help the matter when he endorsed a tweet that was sharing antisemitic theories. So this seemed like a bridge too far. And at this point, when you're talking about brands like Disney saying we're going to pause ads, you're talking about brands that have incredible influence. Some of them are actually quite big spenders on X in terms of advertising, and some just have a halo effect where other advertisers are then going to look to them and say is X a safe place for us to put our marketing spend?

MARTIN: How big of a blow is this, or is it any way - is there any way to know at this point?

GOODE: Well, it's a great question because one of the things, of course, that has changed as Elon Musk has taken over Twitter/X is that he took the company private. And so the company no longer has the responsibility to report quarterly earnings. We have some market research firms and other reports suggesting that, yes, Twitter is not doing so well, but when you see this kind of - I don't want to call it an exodus, but these really big brands starting to pause and really sort of take stock of what is going on on X, that can't be good long term for Twitter.

MARTIN: What is the basis of Elon Musk's case against Media Matters? I mean, has he asserted that it is false, or does he have some other argument?

GOODE: Well, when Musk and X filed the lawsuit against Media Matters For America, they were basically alleging that this recent report from Media Matters, which showed the list of big name advertisers, you know, appearing next to antisemitic content on X, they said that that report was basically an attempt to, quote-unquote, "destroy" the company by encouraging advertisers to pull their money. So there were actually two reports from Media Matters, right? There was the one that came on November 16 that just showed evidence of here is this problematic content that's appearing directly below or above these ads from big brands, and then there is this ongoing list that Media Matters is maintaining of more and more brands as they start to pull away from X.

And so Musk had said basically immediately afterwards that he was planning to go, quote-unquote, "thermonuclear" on Media Matters. We were waiting to see if the lawsuit would actually come to fruition. And in fact, on Monday, X did file this lawsuit, but it's still a little bit convoluted in terms of exactly on what basis X is filing this suit except to say that this is an attempt - they claim it is an attempt from Media Matters to destroy X.

MARTIN: That's Lauren Goode. She's a senior writer for Wired. Lauren, thank you so much for sharing these insights with us.

GOODE: Thank you very much, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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