In the newest uproar you might have missed, Elon Musk says X, formerly Twitter, will file a defamation lawsuit against the Anti-Defamation League. Musk accused the ADL, an organization that works to combat antisemitism, extremism and bigotry, of falsely accusing him and X of being antisemitic.
“To clear our platform’s name on the matter of anti-Semitism, it looks like we have no choice but to file a defamation lawsuit against the Anti-Defamation League … oh the irony!” tweeted the billionaire celebrity on Monday.
Musk also blamed the ADL for X’s falling U.S. advertising revenue.
“Our US advertising revenue is still down 60%, primarily due to pressure on advertisers by @ADL (that’s what advertisers tell us), so they almost succeeded in killing X/Twitter!” said Musk.
Musk started off this latest tirade by claiming to be pro-free speech, but “against anti-Semitism of any kind.”
The tweets come as Musk has been called out for liking posts with the hashtag #BanTheADL, which was trending on X last week. The trending hashtag, and Musk’s engagement with it, began hours after the ADL said it had a productive conversation with X CEO Linda Yaccarino about fighting hate speech on the platform.
“Since the acquisition, The @ADL has been trying to kill this platform by falsely accusing it & me and of being anti-Semitic,” tweeted Musk on Monday. “If this continues, we will have no choice but to file a defamation suit against, ironically, the “Anti-Defamation” League.”
Antisemitism has been a problem on Twitter long before Musk took over. In 2016, the ADL published a report documenting the rise in antisemitic hate speech targeting journalists on the platform, partly due to the rhetoric of the 2016 presidential election.
Since Musk bought the platform, reports of hate speech have abounded. In January, a lawsuit was filed in Germany accusing the platform of mishandling Holocaust denial, which is a crime in the country. Four months later, Germany signaled that it would fine the social media platform for repeatedly failing to comply with social media hate speech takedowns law.
Musk himself has been accused of invoking antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories by targeting Jewish billionaire George Soros and engaging with antisemitic content on X. For example, in June, Musk boosted an anti-semitic tweet that offered a choice between using blood taken from children (connect to a photo of U.S. President Joe Biden) or hating Jews (connected to a picture of actor Mel Gibson, who has made anti-semitic comments in the past.
Musk responded saying, “Gibson is really that buff these days?” Not hate speech in itself, but an example of Musk’s willingness to engage directly with antisemitic posts on his platform. The tweet has since been deleted.
In early August, X also filed suit against the British nonprofit called Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) after the organization published a report that found Twitter failed to act on 99% of hate posted by Twitter Blue users. The group also questioned whether Twitter’s algorithm boosts “toxic tweets.” X is accusing the CCDH of unlawfully accessing data and selectively choosing posts to show a rise in hate speech on the platform.
Blaming the ADL for loss in ad revenue
Musk said the ADL’s pressure on advertisers caused X’s lower-than-normal U.S. ad revenue.
X’s U.S. ad revenue over a five-week period from April 1, 2023 to the first week of May came to $88 million, a 59% decrease from the year-ago result, according to a New York Times report.
Back in June, TechCrunch broke down what this slump means for X and on a grander scale. In a slow economy, advertisers tend to pull back across the board, so a slack advertising market could mean that not all of X’s advertising woes are strictly personal. Additionally, since Musk went on a firing spree after taking over, a lower cost basis means X needs less revenue to cover employee costs.
That said, X has a lot of debt that came from Musk’s purchase of the company.
Given that quarters are generally 13 weeks, Twitter’s $88 million in five-week, second-quarter advertising revenue from the U.S. market implies that the company’s domestic ad incomes are not enough to service its debt interest payments.
Is it fair to blame the ADL for all of X’s suffering? Absolutely not. By being a safe haven for “free speech,” X has also likely become a place where content that goes against brand safety guidelines surfaces more frequently. Combine that with the fact that the platform’s owner regularly trolls other users and public figures, perpetually setting an example of how to stir the pot.
Advertisers have a finite spend and need to choose carefully what brands and conversations they can be associated with. Claiming to be against antisemitism is just talk. Advertisers and users will want action.