Angelo Carusone discusses Elon Musk and X on MSNBC: “No matter how you slice it, the fact is their brand safety tools were not operating in the way that they claim they should have been”

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Citation From the November 26, 2023, edition of MSNBC's The Katie Phang Show

KATIE PHANG (HOST): Since the richest man in the world bought Twitter – now known as X – over a year ago, Elon Musk has struggled to keep advertisers on the platform. Now, the self-proclaimed free speech absolutist has found someone else to blame. On Monday, Musk sued progressive media watchdog group Media Matters over an investigative report Musk claims is costing him major ad dollars. It's interesting to note that Musk sued in federal court in Texas, despite being headquartered in California and Media Matters being based in Washington, DC; and X's lawyers for this lawsuit? Two former top lieutenants to Texas AG Ken Paxton, who has launched an investigation into Media Matters, which he calls a radical anti-free speech organization. Let that irony sink in for a second there. The lawsuit comes after Media Matters discovered that ads for major corporations were placed next to posts promoting antisemitic content on Musk's social media platform. Musk alleges that Media Matters investigation was manipulated in order to intentionally hurt X's advertising sales. However, the reality is major companies have suspended advertising on acts including Airbnb, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Netflix, and MSNBC parent company Comcast. And according to internal documents viewed by The New York Times, excludes as much as $75 million in advertising revenue by the end of this year. Joining me now, Angelo Carusone, president and CEO of Media Matters. Angelo, it's always good to see you. Look, Elon Musk's suit claims that your investigative report, cherry-picked accounts that followed extreme fringe content and major advertisers to get your results. I looked at the lawsuit. Paragraphs seven and ten of the complaint say that you manipulated algorithms and that you endlessly scrolled and refreshed to be able to get what you got. But let's be clear here, Angelo, and I think this is absurd about this lawsuit. It doesn't reject the truth, which is the antisemitic content was next to the ads, right?

ANGELO CARUSONE (MEDIA MATTERS): That's right. And that's really what started this series of reports. We've been writing about this specific topic since August, when as part of the efforts to bring advertisers back to the platform, Linda Yaccarino, who is the CEO, had sort of rolled out or announced a series of what they were describing as brand safety protections. So they kind of acknowledged and sort of gave up on the idea that the platform was not going to become a safe haven or an increasing cesspool for extremism, things like pro-Hitler content or pro-Nazi content. But what they actually said to advertisers, don't worry, we have these new mechanisms in place much more robust than they were that will sort of prevent your ads from ever even appearing alongside this stuff. So you don't have to worry. And so these reports and this was just one of many all were illustrating something that was at play here, which is that the tools that they claimed were in place to protect brands were not operating. So that's that's really the core here. You know, we didn't place the ads. We didn't, you know, photoshop in the pictures of the ads. What we did was use Twitter the way a normal user would and then and then log the advertisements that were received. And that's the issue – no matter how you slice it, the fact is their brand safety tools were not operating in the way that they claim they should have been.

PHANG: Yeah. Angelo, let's be clear. X's problem with advertisers began long before Media Matters did this report and before this lawsuit as early as this summer. Advertising on that platform was down nearly 60%. Do you think Musk is just using this lawsuit as a scapegoat for his own poor management of his company?

CARUSONE: Yeah, And I think not only the mismanagement in terms of gutting the brand safety and the trust teams, to your point, advertisers have been leaving. A lot of them left very early on before he even really made big changes here because he signaled that he was going to roll back a lot of brand safety. So I think that's part of it. And I think the other part we shouldn't forget this is that this lawsuit came and this advertiser exodus came not only on the heels of the report that we put out, but on Elon Musk's own behavior where he wasn't just, you know, engaging with some pretty extreme, you know, antisemitic, great replacement theory. He responded to this notion that, you know, that the thing that people were chanting in Charlottesville, that Jews in America are somehow funding mass immigration in order to dilute white power. He responded to that great replacement theory, claiming the actual truth on his own platform. So if you're an advertiser, you're looking at the increased rise in extremism and toxicity. We're putting out reports showing that they're sharing ad revenue with these Hitler stan accounts, get thousands of dollars of ad revenue. Then Elon Musk does that, then other reports come out showing the juxtaposition of ads next to extreme content. And if you're an advertiser, when you put it all together, you're like the rot goes all the way to the top and they're never going to really be able to put in place the kinds of mechanisms that make it good for business, at least from an advertiser's perspective.