Elon Musk, the CEO of X, the company formerly known as Twitter, has filed a lawsuit against Media Matters, alleging the media watchdog defamed the social media platform.

The lawsuit comes after Media Matters published a report claiming that ads for major brands appeared next to posts promoting Nazism on X, prompting several companies to pull their ads. In the suit, Musk accuses Media Matters of “completely misrepresenting the real user experience” to mislead advertisers and vows to file a “thermonuclear” lawsuit against the organization.

The lawsuit alleges Media Matters “knowingly and maliciously manufactured side-by-side images” depicting advertisers’ posts next to White nationalist and antisemitic content, misrepresenting the average user’s experience on X to harm the company.

At the same time, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, announced an investigation into Media Matters for possible fraudulent activity in response to the report that prompted companies to pull advertisements from X.

In response to the Musk lawsuit, Media Matters called the case frivolous and stood behind its reporting. 

For those unfamiliar with Media Matters, a brief dive into why it exists highlights what a perfect foe it is for Musk and Paxton.

Media Matters for America is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and media watchdog group founded in 2004 by journalist and political activist David Brock. It was established as a counterweight to the conservative Media Research Center.

The organization positions itself as a fact-checker, focusing on conservative media bias and inaccuracies. It frequently criticizes the opinions of conservative commentators. Media Matters acknowledges it looks for conservative bias in the media and runs advocacy campaigns urging advertisers to drop conservative TV personalities, primarily targeting Fox News.

The organization monitors a cross-section of outlets for conservative misinformation, and it publishes research and rapid-response items to keep the public aware of misinformation.

It’s fitting that a battle between Musk (with Paxton’s extra conservative weight) vs. Media Matters may set the future trajectory for X. If Musk wins, the potential chilling effect on speech, particularly from watchdog organizations, could be significant. Legal battles between nonprofits and billionaires are like a gambler’s weekend trips to a casino — the odds are not only stacked against them but ultimately they will always lose.

Yet, if the legal and societal message that comes out of this lawsuit is that megalomaniac billionaires and their political magnets, such as Paxton, have to live with the free speech they advocate — especially when it runs counter to their interests — then the future of public electronic soapboxes, which is what the original Twitter was designed to be, might be brighter than it appears today.

From a practical political perspective, Musk choosing to put himself further in the public spotlight on an issue as sensitive and do-not-ever-touch such as contemporary Nazism is a further indication that Musk needs better friends.

Even if Musk wins, Media Matters, from discovery through what could be a lengthy lawsuit, will expose the volcanic tire fire Twitter has become since Musk’s acquisition 13 months ago. Whether X can withstand that level of legal and public scrutiny on the look, feel and shape of free speech is for history to decide, yet we may be closer to the end of Musk’s “stewardship” of X than we know.