Ughhhh, Okay, It's Time To Leave Twitter. For Real This Time.
Bigotry? Misinformation? Abusive Litigation? Nazis? How many reasons do we need?
“Twitter has extraordinary potential. I will unlock it,” Elon Musk wrote in April of 2022, announcing the world’s most expensive weed joke and the beginning of an all out assault on free speech in the name of saving this “societal imperative for a functioning democracy.”
But when Twitter’s board accepted his “best and final offer” of $54.20 per share, Musk immediately got cold feet.
He tried and failed to weasel out of the deal in court. Then, in one of his first acts as CEO, he sued the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz in an attempt to claw back the money it earned dragging him into the Delaware Court of Chancery at the behest of Twitter’s old board. And while no one is crying hot tears for a mega-firm which netted $90 million from the deal, the Wachtell suit was a harbinger of Musk’s plan to use garbage litigation to punish his many, many enemies.
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After wandering into Twitter’s headquarters last year bearing that ridiculous sink, Musk immediately welcomed Nazis, racists, and vaccine deniers back to the platform, transforming the once-coveted blue verification check into an ignominious badge of fealty to his right-wing worldview. Because speech isn’t free unless you fork over $8 a month for it!
As advertisers fled the toxic instability, Musk turned again to litigation, vowing to exact revenge on anyone who wrote about his bigly brain business plan to monetize bigotry.
First, he sued the non-profit Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) for pointing out that allowing incendiary figures like Andrew Tate and Andrew Anglin back on the platform generated millions of dollars in revenue.
“The Center has also found ads appearing next to toxic content from each of these reinstated accounts, showing how companies are putting their brand safety and consumer trust at risk by continuing to advertise on Twitter,” the non-profit wrote. “Some of those brands include Apple, Amazon, and the NFL.”
Musk erupted in rage, dispatching his white shoe lawyers from McDermott Will & Emery to sue CCDH for “intentionally mischaracterizing data in ‘research’ reports” in an effort to “censor a wide range of viewpoints on social media” and “restrict the public’s access to free expression in favor of an ideological echo chamber that conforms to CCDH’s favored viewpoints.”
Styled as a breach of contract claim, it alleged that CCDH violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and breached Twitter’s terms of service by “scraping” data from Brandwatch, a third-party vendor that aggregates Twitter data for advertisers. Note that this is not a defamation case, since Twitter could not claim that anything in the article was false. Instead the company demanded “tens of millions of dollars” on the theory that multiple corporations “paused or refrained from advertising on X, in direct response to CCDH’s reports and articles.”
Kaplan, who argued the Supreme Court case invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act and who represents E. Jean Carroll in her defamation suits against Donald Trump, also warned the company that discovery in this case “regarding hate speech and misinformation on the Twitter platform; Twitter’s policies and practices relating to these issues; and Twitter’s advertising revenue” will be extremely unpleasant.
Translation: Do you dipshits really want to throw open your doors and let a bunch of lawyers see every internal Slack message discussing Musk’s genius strategy to gut the company’s trust and safety team?
And Kaplan will 100 percent ensure that the amount Musk earned off of tweets by indicted sex traffickers and self-described Nazis appears in every public filing. There’s a reason we all watched those deposition videos of Trump looking at a photo of Carroll and saying “That’s Marla!” (Hint: That reason’s initials are RK.)
But while the CCDH suit is a wild abuse of the legal system, it’s at least recognizable AS LAW. Musk’s determination to use his money to fill the graveyard with his enemies is escalating along with his personal extremism, and it’s leading him into outright abuse of the legal system.
Last week Musk flipped shit and filed an absolutely bonkers suit against Media Matters for America (MMFA) because it pointed out that Twitter was serving ads for major multinational corporations next to explicitly pro-Hitler content. The story appeared in the middle of a week where advertisers were already recoiling in horror as Musk endorsed the “great replacement” theory, tweeting “You have said the actual truth” at a user who claimed that Jews are pushing “hatred against whites” and importing “hordes of minorities” with the goal of “flooding their [sic] country.”
Then MMFA published screenshots of ads for major brands next to posts describing pictures of Hitler as a real “spiritual awakening.”
As X owner Elon Musk continues his descent into white nationalist and antisemitic conspiracy theories, his social media platform has been placing ads for major brands like Apple, Bravo (NBCUniversal), IBM, Oracle, and Xfinity (Comcast) next to content that touts Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party. The company’s placements come after CEO Linda Yaccarino claimed that brands are “protected from the risk of being next to” toxic posts on the platform.
All the named advertisers paused their ads, and Musk went ballistic, promising a “thermonuclear lawsuit” against MMFA’s “board, their donors, their network of dark money, all of them.”
In fact, this post served only to authenticate the screenshots and confirm that the MMFA story was true. Still Musk insisted the outlet “curated the posts and advertising” — i.e., it followed a lot of Nazi accounts and blocked ads for the regular janky crap that populates everyone else’s feed now. Then MMFA “repeatedly refreshed their timelines” — i.e., they did exactly what social media companies want you to do when their business is monetizing eyeballs through ad sales.
Twitter filed the MMFA complaint in the Fort Worth Division of the Northern District of Texas. That alone is a screaming siren that this is nothing more than a tool to punish the site’s critics. No party in this case has any relationship to Texas: Not Twitter, which is a California corporation. Not MMFA, which operates in DC. And not the article’s author, Eric Hananoki, who lives in Maryland and was named as a co-defendant in this lawsuit-shaped stinkbomb.
There is zero argument that the defendants submitted to personal jurisdiction in Texas, or that the venue bears any relationship to the claims. But Twitter simply yadda yadda yadda-ed over all that, blithely insisting that the article was “purposefully directed at, among others, relationships with advertisers who are located in, have a significant presence in, or transact substantial business in Texas” and gesturing vaguely toward Twitter’s “millions of Texas users.”
Bootstrapping nonsense upon nonsense, Twitter then claimed that Texas is the appropriate venue “because all Defendants are subject to personal jurisdiction in this District” and because “a substantial part of the property that is subject of the action—that is, X’s business and advertising—is situated in the district.”
And no, Twitter’s lawyers will not be elaborating on what “property” the company has in Fort Worth.
It’s hard to overstate how ridiculous this is as a question of law. It is axiomatic that courts only have jurisdiction over parties who reside in or do business in the state. Here, Musk argues that he can drag anyone into a lawsuit filed anywhere in the country simply because Twitter itself has customers in all 50 states. Which is CHUTZPAH for a company that imposes a binding agreement on all users and vendors obligating them to sue it in California. It’s also not the law, which is perhaps why Musk’s rotating stable of biglaw attorneys noped out of this particular field trip.
Instead Twitter is represented by two boutique firms helmed by veterans of the Texas solicitor general’s office who left to represent Attorney General Ken Paxton in his impeachment trial. And indeed, Paxton immediately announced that he’s launching an investigation of Media Matters for “fraud.” This is extremely on brand for a politician who previously used his office to “investigate” Twitter when it was trying to force Musk to go through with the purchase deal. (Watch your back, Wachtell!)
The allegations against MMFA largely echo the CCDH claim, minus the fig leaf about data scraping. Twitter alleges interference with contract and prospective economic advantage, arguing that MMFA is legally responsible for advertisers who left the platform after seeing visual proof that the site would not, or could not, prevent their brands from appearing next to posts praising Hitler.
“Through extensive deception and misrepresentation, Defendant Media Matters caused advertisers to lose faith in X Corp.’s abilities to monitor and curate content, thereby leading them to break off these lucrative relationships and any future continued relationships,” the complaint huffed.
Twitter also accuses the defendant of business disparagement based on the bizarre claim that “Media Matters itself—not X—was responsible for placement of the content it identified through its willful exploitation of X’s user features.”
TL, DR? “You said mean stuff about us, and okay, yes, it’s technically true. But you didn’t mention all the times when we don’t put ads next to Nazi content, and that’s no fair! Please pay us hundreds of millions of dollars.”
First Amendment lawyer Ted Boutros seemed to think the case was an exercise in censorship and poor judgment.
"This lawsuit is riddled with legal flaws, and it is highly ironic that a platform that touts itself as a beacon of free speech would file a bogus case like this that flatly contradicts basic First Amendment principles and targets free speech by a critic," Boutrous told CNN’s Oliver Darcy.
"In some ways it’s a dream come true for the people at Media Matters because it could allow them to use the litigation discovery process to force X to divulge all sorts of embarrassing, damaging private information that it would much rather keep secret," he added.
Like CCDH, MMFA has also netted itself superstar representation from The Elias Law Group, founded by election lawyer Marc Elias. But it’s unclear whether his prodigious litigation skills will come into use here.
Even with the handpicked Trump judge Twitter scored by filing in Fort Worth, this case is so procedurally defective that it likely cannot survive a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and venue. But by then, MMFA will have incurred tens of thousands of dollars of legal fees to get rid of this turkey. And that is the point.
Musk uses his bottomless pit of cash to bully people who say true things about him and his company, and he doesn’t care if he loses — the point is to inflict pain and deter anyone else from criticizing him. He was never a free speech warrior aiming to protect democracy. This was always a vanity project for Musk to create a safe space where bigots can feel free say terrible, destructive things while praising him. And if you care about the rule of law, you can’t continue to subsidize this rank abuse of the judicial system to stifle free speech.
Which is a long way of saying, it’s time for us all to get off Twitter — and I say this as someone who spent a truly appalling portion of the last decade scrolling the platform. We cannot be a part of this thing any more. Or, if we can’t go cold turkey for professional reasons, we can certainly dial it back and start rebuilding our professional networks somewhere else.
And PS — I know it’s called X these days. But if Musk is going to deadname his own kid, I’ll stick with the bird, TYVM.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Ted Boutros as the attorney representing MMFA.
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