Money as Counterspeech

Elon Musk, the owner of X (formerly known as Twitter), engaged in dangerous speech last Wednesday by endorsing a post attacking Jews with language similar to that posted by Robert Bowers just before he killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in 2018. Such rhetoric, suggesting that Jews encourage immigration by nonwhite people, is often on the minds of  white supremacists including mass killers. Yet Musk declared “You have said the actual truth” in response to a post reading “I’m deeply disinterested in giving the tiniest shit now about western Jewish populations coming to the disturbing realization that those hordes of minorities that support flooding their country don’t exactly like them too much.” 

That post and Musk’s response are far from the only antisemitic content on X. There is so much pro-Nazi content that ads often appear next to it, according to research just released by Media Matters for America. 

Aware of how bad this could be for their brands, some of the world’s largest companies pulled their advertising from the platform last week. Withdrawing their money this way constitutes what we at the Dangerous Speech Project call counterspeech: “any direct response to hateful or harmful speech which seeks to undermine it.”

Other companies that have pulled ads are Apple, Comcast, Disney, Lionsgate, NBCUniversal, Paramount, Sony, and Warner Brothers Discovery. Media Matters for America is monitoring that list as it continues to grow.

Musk has retaliated by filing a lawsuit against Media Matters for America for releasing its research. It’s only his latest of multiple efforts to silence his critics since he took over Twitter last year, though when he bought the company he touted himself as a “free speech absolutist”. He also sued the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) in July for scraping data from the platform, after they reported on widespread hate and disinformation spreading on X. 

The lawsuits are pending. The advertisers’ decisions are also unresolved.  IBM, one of the first to pull its ads, IBM said it had “suspended all advertising on X while we investigate this entirely unacceptable situation.”