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Elon Musk Escalates Speech-Chilling Attacks on His Critics

On Monday Musk threatened to sue the Anti-Defamation League for X's ad revenue losses

Washington, DC — Following nearly a year of sustained pressure on brands from the #StopToxicTwitter coalition that has shown the dangers of advertising on Twitter (now “X”), Elon Musk is now singling out coalition members to blame for the company’s extensive revenue losses. On Monday, Musk threatened to sue the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for these losses, continuing his penchant for using lawyers to silence his critics.  

Musk’s acknowledgment of these significant losses comes as X is also claiming — without evidence — that many major brands have returned to advertise on the platform.

The #StopToxicTwitter coalition has documented the significant missteps Musk has made since taking over the platform last October. His mismanagement began at the outset when he lied to civil-rights leaders about his content-moderation plans. Musk then laid off key staff charged with ensuring brand and user safety while granting a “general amnesty” to thousands of previously banned accounts, including those belonging to neo-Nazis, white supremacists, homophobes, transphobes, conspiracy theorists and others spouting hate and disinformation. As a result, #StopToxicTwitter coalition members, including the Center for Countering Digital Hate and Media Matters for America, have repeatedly shown that major brands’ ads are appearing next to extremist, bigoted and antisemitic content.

Since Musk took over the platform, #StopToxicTwitter members have doggedly tracked the impact of Musk’s reckless abandonment of content-moderation standards. More than 600 advertisers had abandoned X by the start of 2023, fearing that their brands wouldn’t be safe under Musk’s erratic leadership. Their departure contributed to a 70-percent drop in platform revenue over the previous year, according to Standard Media Index. By midyear, Fidelity Investments reported that the platform was worth just one-third of the $44 billion Musk paid for it.

#StopToxicTwitter member ADL is among Musk’s chief critics, repeatedly calling out his amplification of antisemitic voices and memes. While X CEO Linda Yaccarino met with ADL to hear their concerns, Musk lashed out, amplifying antisemitic attacks on the organization and vowing to sue. X has already attempted to silence a critic by suing the Center for Countering Digital Hate, another #StopToxicTwitter member that has documented the explosion of hate speech on the platform since Musk took over.

“The #StopToxicTwitter coalition exists to shine a light on Musk’s mismanagement of X, and on how Musk’s decisions to replatform white supremacists and conspiracy theorists have harmed people and the brands that advertise on the platform,” said Free Press Co-CEO Jessica J. González. “That the wealthiest man on the planet is using his money, influence and even legal action to threaten and silence critics, including our coalition partners, is reprehensible. Musk bought an advertising platform and advertisers have made themselves clear: They want no part of the toxic stew of hate and lies that Musk has enabled. The only one Musk has to blame for X’s declining fortunes is himself.” 

“Elon Musk’s professed commitment to free speech is nothing more than fig leaf flapping in the wind,” said Media Matters Chairman and CEO Angelo Carusone. “For Musk, it’s always been about morphing Twitter into a free for all that enables extremists and promotes his red-pilled worldview. Rarely does a day go by where Musk does not further expose himself as a volatile and petty hypocrite. “We know that Musk is going to continue to ratchet up the temperature on the simmering cauldron of deceit and hate that Twitter has become. Accordingly, the most important question isn’t what Musk will do next, it’s what will Twitter’s few remaining big-name advertisers and business partners do now? Continuing to support Twitter in its current state is akin to actively financing hate. It’s also a truly bizarre decision given that it’s only a matter of time before they inevitably get scorched by the noxious stew that Musk is cooking.”

“Advertisers have fled Twitter because Musk’s takeover cost the company its legitimacy by welcoming hate, extremism and disinformation, which no respectable brand wants to be associated with,” said Accountable Tech Policy and Advocacy Director Kaili Lambe. “Twitter’s downward spiral is due to Musk’s complete contempt for community standards and the safeguards that both users and advertisers demand. It’s the ultimate hypocrisy that Musk still masquerades as a free-speech absolutist when he’s made it clear he will pull every lever at his disposal to silence his critics. It should go without saying that his tactics are bad for business as well as an internet that allows for true democratic engagement and community conversations.”