Elon Musk’s X Loses Lawsuit Against Research Group That Reported Rise in Hate Speech, Racist Content on Social Network

A federal judge Monday dismissed a lawsuit brought by Elon Musk’s X against the Center for Countering Digital Hate, ruling it was “evident” the litigation was intended “to punish CCDH for CCDH publications that criticized X Corp.”

X, the Musk-owned social network formerly known as Twitter, in July 2023 sued the Center for Countering Digital Hate, an independent nonprofit research group, over the organization’s findings that since the multibillionaire had acquired the company in October 2022, hate, racism and disinformation on the social platform had substantially increased.

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Musk has not commented on X about the decision. A Twitter rep didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In its lawsuit, filed July 31, 2023, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, X sought to blame CCDH for “tens of millions of dollars” in lost advertising revenue after the nonprofit group reported on hate speech and misinformation on X/Twitter.

Lawyers for CCDH in November filed a motion to strike X’s claims under California’s law against Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) as well as a motion to dismiss the case in its entirety.

In his ruling Monday, District Court Judge Charles Breyer denied Musk and X Corp.’s request to re-plead the case. In addition to granting CCDH’s motion to strike and dismiss, Breyer also granted a motion by Stichting European Climate Foundation (which was named as a defendant) to have X’s claims against it dismissed.

“Sometimes it is unclear what is driving a litigation, and only by reading between the lines of a complaint can one attempt to surmise a plaintiff’s true purpose,” Breyer wrote. “Other times, a complaint is so unabashedly and vociferously about one thing that there can be no mistaking that purpose. This case represents the latter circumstance. This case is about punishing the Defendants for their speech.”

The judge continued, “It is also just not true that the complaint is only about data collection… It is impossible to read the complaint and not conclude that X Corp. is far more concerned about CCDH’s speech than it is its data collection methods.”

Per the order, “The Court notes, too, that X Corp.’s motivation in bringing this case is evident. X Corp. has brought this case in order to punish CCDH for CCDH publications that criticized X Corp. — and perhaps in order to dissuade others who might wish to engage in such criticism… If CCDH’s publications were defamatory, that would be one thing, but X Corp. has carefully avoided saying that they are.”

A copy of the judge’s order is at this link.

X Corp.’s lawsuit against CCDH had accused CCDH of breach of contract, violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, intentional interference with contractual relations and inducing breach of contract. According to X, social media analytics firm Brandwatch “made X aware that the CCDH gained access to X’s data without Brandwatch’s authorization, and that the purported CCDH ‘research’ cited in a Bloomberg article ‘contained metrics used out of context to make unsubstantiated assertions about X (formerly Twitter).’ Additionally, the CCDH has recently scraped X’s platform, which is a violation of our terms of service.” The suit sought unspecified monetary damages and an injunction barring CCDH from accessing, using or disclosing data provided by X to Brandwatch.

The lawsuit came after the Center for Countering Digital Hate published findings that Twitter failed to take action against 99 of 100 accounts verified via X Premium (formerly called Twitter Blue) which the organization reported for hate-speech violations. The group’s research into X/Twitter found that the volume of tweets containing slurs had risen by up to 202% since Musk’s takeover of Twitter; the number of tweets linking LGBTQ+ people to “grooming” have more than doubled over that time; and that paid-for verification is “helping spread disinformation.”

X called the CCDH’s research “false, misleading or both” and said it had “reason to believe” the CCDH is “supported by funding from X Corp.’s commercial competitors, as well as government entities and their affiliates.”

In a statement, Imran Ahmed, CEO and founder of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, said: “Throughout Elon Musk’s loud, hypocritical campaign of harassment, abuse and lawfare designed to avoid taking responsibility for his own decisions, CCDH has remained quietly confident in the quality and integrity of our research and advocacy. Our aim has always been to alert the world to corporate failures that undermine human rights and civil liberties.”

Separately, last November, X and Musk sued Media Matters, alleging the liberal watchdog group “knowingly and maliciously manufactured” research depicting neo-Nazi and white-nationalist posts on X next to ads for Apple, Bravo, IBM, Oracle and Comcast’s Xfinity. Following the Media Matters report and Musk’s endorsement of an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, several large advertisers said they were halting their spending on X — either because of the Media Matters reports, Musk’s post or a combination of both.

At a conference last fall, Disney CEO Bob Iger addressed the company’s decision to halt ad spending on X. citing Musk’s comment “You have said the actual truth” in reply to a post pushing an anti-Semitic “replacement theory.” Musk has apologized for the post. He also had a message for Iger and other execs pulling ad spending from X: “If somebody’s going to try to blackmail me with advertising? Blackmail me with money? Go fuck yourself. Go. Fuck. Yourself. Is that clear?”

On Monday, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey filed a lawsuit against Media Matters seeking to force the nonprofit to turn over documents related to the AG’s investigation “into its fraudulent business practices.” Replying to Bailey on X, Musk wrote, “Much appreciated! Media Matters is doing everything it can to undermine the First Amendment. Truly an evil organization.”

In a statement, Media Matters president Angelo Carusone said: “Far from the free-speech advocate he claims to be, Elon Musk has actually intensified his efforts to undermine free speech by enlisting Republican Attorneys General across the country to initiate meritless, expensive, and harassing investigations against Media Matters in an attempt to punish critics. This [Missouri] investigation is the latest in a transparent endeavor to squelch the First Amendment rights of researchers and reporters; it will have a chilling effect on news reporters.”

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