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I wrote last November (FAIR.org, 11/22/23) about how Twitter owner Elon Musk’s lawsuit against Media Matters—alleging the group’s research “manipulated” data in an effort to “destroy” Musk’s social media platform—was an episode of a right-wing corporate media mogul using his wealth to crush free speech.

Riverfront Times: Missouri AG's Latest Sweaty Headline Grab Earns Cheers From Elon Musk

“Much appreciated!” declared Elon Musk in response to the Missouri attorney general’s probe (Riverfront Times, 3/25/24). “Media Matters is doing everything it can to undermine the First Amendment. Truly an evil organization.”

Now Musk’s friends in government are joining his efforts to silence his critics. Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey is suing Media Matters to demand internal documents, because he, like Musk, believes the group “manipulated Twitter‘s algorithm to create a report showing advertisements for normal companies on the platform appeared next to not-normal content, or what Bailey calls ‘contrived controversial posts,’” causing advertisers to flee (Riverfront Times, 3/25/24).

Bailey said in a statement (3/25/24):

My office has reason to believe Media Matters engaged in fraudulent activities to solicit donations from Missourians to intimidate advertisers into leaving X, the last social media platform committed to free speech in America….

Media Matters has pursued an activist agenda in its attempt to destroy X, because they cannot control it. And because they cannot control it, or the free speech platform it provides to Missourians to express their own viewpoints in the public square, the radical “progressives” at Media Matters have resorted to fraud to, as Benjamin Franklin once said, mark X “for the odium of the public, as an enemy to the liberty of the press.” Missourians will not be manipulated by “progressive” activists masquerading as news outlets, and they will not be defrauded in the process.

Bailey clearly wants to get into the fray that has caught up with right-wing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Paxton (11/20/23) announced he was launching an investigation into “Media Matters, a radical anti-free speech organization.” He cited Texas’ Deceptive Trade Practices Act as grounds for looking into whether Media Matters “fraudulently manipulated data on X.com“:

We are examining the issue closely to ensure that the public has not been deceived by the schemes of radical left-wing organizations who would like nothing more than to limit freedom by reducing participation in the public square.

As the government of Texas threatened to bring charges against a nonprofit organization for publishing a study of a multi-billion-dollar corporation, Musk posted the attorney general’s press release on X (11/20/23) and gloated, “Fraud has both civil and criminal penalties.”

McCarthyist witch hunt

It’s easy to write off Bailey and Paxton as partisan hacks who are using the power of the state as a public relations tool to win adulation in MAGA-land. But Musk’s ability to use the partisan prosecutors and the courts to engage in a McCarthyist witch hunt against the corporation’s critics is highly concerning.

Verge: Judge tosses Elon Musk’s X lawsuit against anti-hate group

A federal judge dismissed Musk’s complaint that the Center for Countering Digital Hate had “embarked on a scare campaign” (Verge, 3/25/24).

At around the same time as Bailey announced his crusade, federal Judge Charles Breyer dismissed Twitter’s lawsuit against the Center for Countering Digital Hate (Verge, 3/25/24), saying that the company suing CCDH for researching hate speech on the site was “about punishing the defendants for their speech.” It’s good news that a sensible judge can protect free speech. But how long can that last against one of the world’s richest people, who has made it clear he has an agenda to silence critics, and the collaboration of powerful officials?

Former President Donald Trump left his mark on the judiciary, appointing “more than 200 judges to the federal bench, including nearly as many powerful federal appeals court judges in four years as Barack Obama appointed in eight” (Pew Research, 1/13/21). And Bailey and Paxton are not the only state attorneys general who are aligned with Trump and his political positions; Paxton was able to get 16 others to join with him in petitioning the Supreme Court to overturn the 2020 election (New York Times, 12/9/20).

Rather than turning Twitter into an open free-speech utopia, Musk’s administration of Twitter has been marked by aggressive censorship (Al Jazeera, 5/2/23). Reporters Without Borders (10/26/23) said that Musk’s removal of guardrails against disinformation has been so disastrous that it “regards X as the embodiment of the threat that online platforms pose to democracies.” After the National Labor Relations Board said that Musk’s SpaceX fired workers critical of him (Bloomberg, 1/3/24), the company argued that the NLRB’s structure was unconstitutional (Reuters, 2/15/24).

Musk is clearly inclined to use courts and friendly officials to censor his critics, as well as to shred labor rights. If Trump is elected later this year—which is entirely possible (CNN, 3/9/24)—Musk will have the ability to fuse his desire and resources to shut down critics with emboldened far-right government allies.

Bailey’s outrageous statement might seem silly and destined for the same fate as Musk’s case against the CCDH, but it portends a highly chilling environment if the courts and government agencies fall further into the hands of the right.

The post ‘Free Speech’ Fan Elon Musk Enlists State Allies to Silence Critics appeared first on FAIR.


This content originally appeared on FAIR and was authored by Ari Paul.

Citations

[1] Musk’s Lawsuit Is About Destroying Free Speech — FAIR ➤ https://fair.org/home/musks-lawsuit-is-about-destroying-free-speech/[2] Missouri AG's Latest Sweaty Headline Grab Earns Cheers From Elon Musk ➤ https://www.riverfronttimes.com/news/missouri-ags-latest-sweaty-headline-grab-earns-cheers-from-elon-musk-42180449[3] Missouri AG's Latest Sweaty Headline Grab Earns Cheers From Elon Musk ➤ https://www.riverfronttimes.com/news/missouri-ags-latest-sweaty-headline-grab-earns-cheers-from-elon-musk-42180449[4] Attorney General Bailey Files Suit Against Media Matters for Refusal to Cooperate with Investigation | Attorney General Office of Missouri ➤ https://ago.mo.gov/attorney-general-bailey-files-suit-against-media-matters-for-refusal-to-cooperate-with-investigation/[5] Attorney General Ken Paxton Opens Investigation into Media Matters for Potential Fraudulent Activity | Office of the Attorney General ➤ https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/news/releases/attorney-general-ken-paxton-opens-investigation-media-matters-potential-fraudulent-activity[6] x.com ➤ https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1726767436618191177[7] Judge tosses Elon Musk’s X lawsuit against anti-hate group - The Verge ➤ https://www.theverge.com/2024/3/25/24091143/elon-musk-x-ccdh-lawsuit-dismissed[8] Judge tosses Elon Musk’s X lawsuit against anti-hate group - The Verge ➤ https://www.theverge.com/2024/3/25/24091143/elon-musk-x-ccdh-lawsuit-dismissed[9] How Trump’s judge appointments compare with other presidents | Pew Research Center ➤ https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2021/01/13/how-trump-compares-with-other-recent-presidents-in-appointing-federal-judges/[10]https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/09/us/politics/trump-texas-supreme-court-lawsuit.html[11] play ➤ https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2023/5/2/twitter-fulfilling-more-government-censorship-requests-under-musk[12] From Twitter to X, Elon Musk’s transformation from free speech defender to champion of disinformation | RSF ➤ https://rsf.org/en/twitter-x-elon-musk-s-transformation-free-speech-defender-champion-disinformation[13] Bloomberg - Are you a robot? ➤ https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2024-01-03/elon-musk-s-spacex-illegally-fired-workers-who-criticized-him-nlrb-alleges[14]https://www.reuters.com/legal/government/spacex-loses-bid-keep-challenge-nlrbs-structure-texas-court-2024-02-15/[15] Why it will be tough for Biden to defeat Trump | CNN Politics ➤ https://www.cnn.com/2024/03/09/politics/election-president-trump-biden/index.html[16] ‘Free Speech’ Fan Elon Musk Enlists State Allies to Silence Critics — FAIR ➤ https://fair.org/home/free-speech-fan-elon-musk-enlists-state-allies-to-silence-critics/[17] FAIR — FAIR is the national progressive media watchdog group, challenging corporate media bias, spin and misinformation. ➤ https://fair.org/