Middle East

Elon Musk to meet Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu in Silicon Valley

September 14, 2023 11:20 PM

Sept 14 (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet X owner Elon Musk on Monday in Silicon Valley, an official in Netanyahu's office said on Thursday, and Musk said their talks would focus on artificial intelligence technology.

Netanyahu was already scheduled to visit California next week before traveling to New York for the U.N. General Assembly. The Israeli official confirmed the meeting with Musk, first reported by the Washington Post, but offered no further details.

In Silicon Valley, Netanyahu may try to bolster relations with executives in the high tech sector, a key driver of Israel's economy. During his trip, it was unclear whether Netanyahu will meet with President Joe Biden, who has expressed concern about a judicial overhaul undertaken by Netanyahu and his right-wing government.

Hate speech on X, formerly known as Twitter, has increased dramatically since Musk bought the site last year and loosened safeguards around content moderation. Last week, Musk said U.S. ad revenue had declined by 60%.

The meeting is the latest step in a campaign by Musk’s Jewish friends and allies to stave off the mounting criticism surrounding the increase in antisemitic speech on X, the Post said, citing five people familiar with the situation.

The White House did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.

No did Musk, but on X he said that the meeting was scheduled weeks ago and would focus on artificial intelligence technology.

Civil rights groups, including the Center for Countering Digital Hate and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), have issued findings that the volume of hate speech on X has grown dramatically under the stewardship of Musk, who is also the CEO of electric carmaker Tesla (TSLA.O).

In December, the ADL noted both an increase in antisemitic content on the platform and a decrease in the moderation of antisemitic posts since Musk took over. The Center for Countering Digital Hate said the daily use of a racial slur against Black people under Musk was triple the 2022 average and slurs against gay men and trans persons were up 58% and 62%, respectively.

Without providing evidence, Musk has blamed critics for the slump in ad revenue. He has pointed the finger specifically at pressure from the ADL, which he has started to pejoratively refer to as the "Defamation League," including in his statement on X on Thursday.

Earlier this month, Musk joined a conversation on X with a hashtag #BantheADL, embraced by white nationalists and antisemites, and asked followers whether he should poll the platform about it. He engaged in exchanges with users who expressed antisemitic viewpoints during the discussion.

X's new content moderation policy has made it challenging to convince brands that the social media platform was safe for ads, the company's former head of brand safety and ad quality AJ Brown told Reuters in an interview this month.

Biden has not met with Netanyahu since the Israeli leader took office for a sixth term in late December. Biden has held off extending the invitation out of concern about Netanyahu's judicial overhaul as well as Israel's expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Foreign investment in Israeli tech startups has plunged in the last year, partly due to a global slowdown and exacerbated by investor fears that the push to trim the Supreme Court's powers would remove a key check and balance. With foreign flows down sharply, the shekel has weakened by nearly 9% versus the dollar this year.

Reporting by Kanjyik Ghosh in Bengaluru and Steven Scheer in Jerusalem; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Howard Goller


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