Sign up to our Evening Headlines email for your daily guide to the latest news
Sign up to our free US Evening Headlines email
On Monday, an X user attempted to link the founder of Media Matters – the left-leaning non-profit group that last week accused X of promoting adverts from global companies alongside pro-Hitler content – to the owner of the so-called “Pizzagate restaurant”.
Mr Musk then boosted the post by replying to it, with the one-word phrase: “Weird.”
Now, the three-year-old conspiracy theory and baseless claims of its ties to Media Matters have been promoted to the tech mogul’s 160 million followers.
Pizzagate is an anti-Hillary Clinton conspiracy theory promoted on 4chan, Reddit, Twitter and other platforms in the final days before the 2016 US presidential election.
Believers accused then presidential hopeful Ms Clinton and other senior Democrats of running a child sex trafficking ring out of a Washington DC pizza joint. The conspiracy theory led to a shooting at the restaurant.
The amplification of the theory by the tech billionaire comes amid a growing row between Mr Musk and Media Matters after the organisation published a report revealing that adverts from big brands including IBM, Apple, Oracle and Bravo were running next to pro-Hitler and antisemitic content on Mr Musk’s social media platform.
The revelation prompted a series of major companies – including Disney, Apple and IBM – to pull advertising from X.
On Monday, Mr Musk responded by filing a “thermonuclear lawsuit” against Media Matters. Mr Musk has also branded the organisation “evil” in a post on X.
Mr Musk and other X executives have denied the accusations in the Media Matters report, saying that the research strategy used by the non-profit to uncover the content placed next to company adverts was not representative of how regular people use its platform.
The organisation had followed accounts that posted the content, then refreshed the X timeline until adverts appeared, X executive Joe Benarroch said.
Meanwhile, an X spokesperson told The Independent the company did not intentionally place the adverts next to the posts from the antisemitic accounts, which have now been demonetised, meaning advertising can no longer run on their profiles. However, the accounts have not been removed.
Media Matters president Angelo Carusone issued a statement on Monday addressing Mr Musk’s campaign against the organisation, calling the lawsuit “meritless” and “an attempt to silence reporting that he even confirmed is accurate”.
“Musk admitted the ads at issue ran alongside the pro-Nazi content we identified. If he does sue us, we will win,” the non-profit said.
After Mr Musk’s $44bn acquisition of X closed last year, he relaxed moderation policies on X and cut many staff involved with safety on the platform.
Since then, Mr Musk has come under fire on multiple occasions over content promoting antisemitism on the site.
Mr Musk has also sparked outrage over his own posts and comments which have promoted antisemitic content.
On Wednesday, the self-described “free-speech absolutist” said a post which promoted an antisemitic theory was “the actual truth”.
A social media user had appeared to push the “great replacement” conspiracy theory on X, claiming that Jewish communities “have been pushing the exact kind of dialectical hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them”.
“I’m deeply disinterested in giving the tiniest s*** now about Western Jewish populations coming to the disturbing realisation that those hordes of minorities that support flooding their country don’t exactly like them too much. You want truth said to your face, there it is,” the post added.
Mr Musk’s responded by writing: “You have said the actual truth.”
His response received praise from white nationalist Nick Fuentes – while prompting widespread backlash from dozens more, including the White House, with many accusing him of antisemitism.
“This past week, there were hundreds of bogus media stories claiming that I am antisemitic. Nothing could be further from the truth,” he wrote.
“I wish only the best for humanity and a prosperous and exciting future for all.”
This came after an earlier scandal in the days after the 7 October Hamas attacks on Israel, where Mr Musk was forced to delete a post in which he amplified an account widely accused of antisemitism and promoted debunked videos as reliable sources of information about the attack.
Last year, advocacy organisation the American Jewish Committee called on Mr Musk to apologise over a controversial post that made a satirical comparison between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Adolf Hitler.
Mr Musk has previously insisted that he is “pro free speech” but against antisemitism “of any kind”.