Angelo Carusone on MSNBC describes how Elon Musk's own conduct is to blame for advertiser exodus from X: “The rot goes all the way to the top”

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Citation From the November 18, 2023, edition of MSNBC's American Voices

PAOLA RAMOS (GUEST HOST): Elon Musk's social media platform X, previously known as Twitter, is losing some of its biggest advertisers. IBM, Apple, Lionsgate, Disney, Warner Brothers Discovery, Paramount, and NBCUniversal all said it would suspend ad buys on the platform. We should mention, of course, that NBCUniversal is the parent company of MSNBC. This comes days after Musk amplified an antisemitic trope on the platform. Musk responded to an obscure antisemitic thread perpetuating the great replacement theory with, quote, "You have said the actual truth."

The advertisers' exodus also comes after a Media Matters investigation revealed that ads from these companies were being placed alongside antisemitic and white supremacist content on the platform. Now, Elon Musk is threatening legal action, blaming the Media Matters report – the one that you just saw – and saying that they rigged the platform to show the ads can appear next to objectionable content. Musk tweeting, quote, "The split-second court opens on Monday. X Corp. will be filing a thermonuclear lawsuit against Media Matters and ALL those colluded in this fraudulent attack on our company."

Media Matters President and CEO Angelo Carusone joins me tonight. Angelo, this is your first interview since Musk threatened to take legal action against you. I must say, I guess your company – thank God. And what was your response to this?

ANGELO CARUSONE (MEDIA MATTERS PRESIDENT AND CEO): I think that the thing to keep in mind is that, you know, it's not really clear what his cause of action is. And I think the most important thing is that in his response, in that legal threat, he actually confirmed that our reporting was accurate. I mean, everything he said that everything in our report actually, as we said, existed, did actually exist on the platform. And that's basically our core argument is that the platform is so saturated with extremism, with white genocide, with antisemitism, with racism, with conspiracy theories, things that otherwise should be managed in some way that they can't actually protect the few brands that are still willing to remain on the platform. And this has actually been an ongoing thing for the last few months. This is just the latest in actually a string of these instances. So I think the most important thing, though, is that he confirmed that we were right.

RAMOS: Were you surprised at all to see the reaction from some of these companies? Right? Were you expecting all of these pretty big advertising companies to sort of follow on – follow through on what you said?

CARUSONE: So I think the thing that was significant is that it was his own it was his own conduct, because that gave a lens for the advertisers to to sort of analyze what was actually taking place on the platform. So I wasn't surprised that one or two advertisers pulled their ads, maybe ones that are smaller buyers. That's been happening since August. We've been putting out similar reports like this for the past few months. And a couple of those advertisers pulled their ads. And, you know, it's it's a it's a day story. It's not it's not a huge, big thing.

But I think in this moment, because as you pointed out in your opening, he had just embraced, you say he when he embraced that and promoted that antisemitic trope, that idea of white genocide, he said actual truth. You said the actual truth. He was validating it. And so if you're one of these big-name advertisers, you're looking at this string of problems on the platform and then you're looking at Elon Musk's own conduct. You're saying there's simply no way for the platform to ever cure the issues that we're dealing with here because the rot goes all the way to the top. And the ultimate decision maker here simply isn't going to protect our brands from this content because he doesn't see a problem with it in the first place.

RAMOS: All right. Let's let's talk about what he doesn't see. Right. Let's talk about the danger of those words. And so I want to read you from The Atlantic. They say it wasn't the first time Musk echoed anti-Semitic conspiracy theories from his social media bubble. And it wasn't the first time he blamed antisemitism on Jewish actions, pinning the prejudice on its victims. Angelo, can you again reinforce the danger that these words carry?

CARUSONE: I think the thing that it was most disturbing when the original deal was being put on the table was that Musk had sort of reflected back out his own journey of growth and what he even described as red-pilled, which is the process by which you sort of, you know, increasingly adopt these sort of this sort of worldview. And he had said that there needed to be a mechanism by which we actually red-pilled more people. And that was around the same time that he was beginning to buy Twitter. Sort of the intention there was not just to do as he said, it's always all about protecting free speech, but that's just a distraction. That's not what it's about at all. None of his conduct suggests that that's what would his ownership and his execution of Twitter – of X – really is.

It really is about taking these ideas and leveraging the power of a social media apparatus to help evangelize them and spread them. So when he lets more of these individuals back on the platform, the intention there, or at least the effect, regardless of the intention, who knows? But the effect and he knows what the effect is – is to add more of that content to the platform so that the algorithm can then promote it and recommend it to potentially like-minded individuals to help spread it, to help that idea metastasize. And so the harm is that you take something that typically is on the fringes and otherwise disconnected – we've always had these terrible things in our country, these horrible ideas. That's that's part of America. We have it there. It's the bad part of it. What we haven't had until recently is tools like social media that can supercharge it, that can connect to all these otherwise disconnected individuals, and actually help turn those ideas into power, both at the ballot box and on the streets. And so that's where the real harm is, is that it does seem that he is executing his original intention, which is to kind of turn Twitter into an X, into a supercharged engine of radicalization.

RAMOS: Now, I do want to remind you, Angela, which you apparently know, you know, already last year you said on Twitter that under Musk, Twitter would become a supercharged engine of radicalization. And I want to end it there because obviously a year ago you predicted some of the things that we're starting to see already. Thank you for joining me tonight. Really appreciate it.

CARUSONE: Thank you.