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With X under fire, Elon Musk digs in and finds support from conservatives

As more advertisers say they're pausing ad buys on the platform, Musk has only escalated his rhetoric, posting about "a large graveyard filled with my enemies."
Elon Musk at the AI Safety Summit in England on Nov. 1, 2023.
Elon Musk at the AI Safety Summit in England on Nov. 1.Leon Neal / Pool via AP file

As advertisers continue to back away from X following concerns around antisemitism on the platform, tech billionaire Elon Musk and his supporters are digging in their heels.?

In the past six days, Musk has launched a lawsuit against a progressive watchdog organization, engaged with long-debunked conspiracy theories about a pizza shop and boasted about a graveyard of his enemies. Meanwhile, conservative politicians and influencers have rallied to his side with kind posts to his social media platform, money and even an attorney general’s investigation.

The advertiser backlash appears to be the biggest threat yet to Musk’s X. The typically unapologetic billionaire has shown no signs of backing down.

On Monday, two more advertisers — Fox Sports and Ubisoft — said they were pausing ad campaigns and spending on the platform in response to questions from NBC News about their ads’ running next to antisemitic content and on pages belonging to antisemitic influencers.?

Paris Hilton's 11:11 Media also pulled an advertising campaign because of concerns about antisemitism and pro-Nazi content on X, a representative for Hilton said. CEO Linda Yaccarino had touted a partnership with Hilton and her company as the platform sought to attract influencers and celebrities.

They joined Disney, Apple and IBM in pausing ads on the platform in the wake of a series of articles from Media Matters for America, a progressive watchdog organization that reported that major ad campaigns were running on antisemitic content on X. The advertiser pullout also followed Musk’s endorsement of an antisemitic conspiracy theory posted on X, which suggested that Jewish people were stoking the replacement of white people via group political action — an antisemitic conspiracy theory known as the “great replacement” that was linked to shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and a Tops grocery store in Buffalo, New York.?

Since advertisers have begun to leave the platform, Musk and Yaccarino have both said they stand against antisemitism and for free speech while going on the offensive against Media Matters.?

On Monday, X sued Media Matters, which reports on politicians, journalists and media outlets, with both Musk and Yaccarino criticizing the framing of the articles and their methodology, while Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced an investigation into the organization for potential fraud. Media Matters has stood by its reporting.

But a review of posts and hashtags conducted by NBC News shows that the platform continues to struggle with antisemitism.?

On Sunday, NBC News found that hashtags associated with antisemitic conspiracy theories were still viewable and had ads running on them. NBC News viewed ads for Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed running on numerous antisemitic accounts, including one called “Jewish Watchdog,” which posted antisemitic memes.?

The topic has also been fodder for some users who say they have taken it upon themselves to try to test whether the platform would show ads against extremist content. On Monday, X users continued to discuss the reporting from Media Matters and began posting screenshots they say they took showing ads running on searches of the term “HeilHitler.” NBC News has not verified the authenticity of those screenshots.

By Tuesday, it appeared the company had disabled the ads on all searches. An X representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Musk has denied being antisemitic, and he said Friday he was designating some pro-Palestinian slogans, including “from the river to the sea,” as falling within the platform’s rules against calling for genocide. The move was applauded by Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, with whom Musk has been feuding about Nazi content on X.?

While Musk has been attacking Media Matters, he has also continued to amplify conspiracy theories and issue warnings to his critics.?

On Monday and Tuesday, Musk amplified the long-debunked Pizzagate conspiracy theory when he responded to four posts and threads referring to the misinformation that led to a shooting incident at a Washington, D.C., pizza shop in 2016. The posts attempted to link the founder of Media Matters to the conspiracy theory.

In addition, Musk issued a series of aggressive posts.?

“There is a large graveyard filled with my enemies,” he posted Tuesday.?

“I do not wish to add to it, but will if given no choice,” he wrote. “Those who pick fights with me do so at their own peril, but maybe this is their lucky day …”?

Musk’s most vocal supporters in recent days have come not from the tech industry but from right-wing politics — in particular, the attorneys general of Texas and Missouri, former Trump White House official Stephen Miller and a loose group of conservative pundits who have pledged to spend more money on X advertising.?

Seth Dillon, the CEO of the conservative satire website The Babylon Bee, posted over the weekend that he was pledging $250,000 toward a new ad campaign on X. He wrote that his offer was “not a lot compared to the budgets of the anti-speech bullies, but it’s something. And hopefully it will be multiplied by others who join us.”?

Other conservative personalities made similar promises, including podcasters Tim Pool and Benny Johnson and Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes, bringing the total pledges to more than $800,000.?

Divisive internet influencer Andrew Tate jumped in with a pledge to spend $1 million a month on X ads. Tate is awaiting trial in Romania on charges including rape, and it is unclear whether he has sufficient resources.?

Dillon, Johnson, McInnes, Pool and Tate did not immediately respond to requests for comment.?

Johnson said in a video Tuesday that he wants to run ads on X attacking Apple, Disney and IBM for their own checkered corporate histories, including allegations that Apple has benefited from forced labor in China.?

“Let’s put ’em on blast. Let’s go on offense,” he said.?

Their support underscored Musk’s growing alliance with Republican political leaders. His decision to buy X, then known as Twitter, immediately followed the suspension of The Babylon Bee last year. After he took control of the company, he reinstated its account and the accounts of many far-right users who had been banned for violating Twitter’s terms of service.?

Musk has also courted some Republican politicians, most notably hosting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to announce his Republican presidential bid. On Sunday, DeSantis refused to condemn Musk’s post from last week, saying he did not see it.?

Miller, a longtime aide to former President Donald Trump, seemed to influence Musk’s thinking on how to counterattack Media Matters from a legal standpoint.?

On Sunday, Miller posted about the subject of Media Matters: “Fraud is both a civil and criminal violation. There are 2 dozen+ conservative state Attorneys General.”?

Musk replied positively to Miller, writing: “Interesting. Both civil and criminal …”?

A couple of hours later, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey replied to Musk on the same thread: “My team is looking into this matter.”?

A day later, Musk echoed Miller’s sentence in a post about Texas’ investigating Media Matters. Musk posted a screenshot of Paxton’s news release and wrote: “Fraud has both civil & criminal penalties.”?

Bailey’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Miller, who is now the president of America First Legal, a far-right legal group, also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.?

Few prominent people in the tech industry have come to Musk’s defense as he faces the antisemitism accusations. Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, posted a selfie he took with Musk last week, just hours after Musk posted his post embracing an antisemitic theory. The two were both at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

It is not clear, though, whether Benioff was aware of what Musk had been posting hours before. Benioff’s representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.?

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