Advertisement

Lawsuit by Elon Musk's X was an attempt to punish free speech, judge rules

Elon Musk
Ebrahim Noroozi/AP
  • A US judge threw out a suit X filed, saying it was about "punishing the defendants for their speech."

  • It had sought millions in damages from a research group that found a rise in hate speech on X.

  • X CEO Elon Musk has said a similar "thermonuclear" lawsuit is about "protecting free speech."

A lawsuit that Elon Musk's X filed last year against a research group was thrown out Monday, with US District Judge Charles Breyer saying, "This case is about punishing the Defendants for their speech."

In its complaint, filed in the Northern District of California, X argued that the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate violated the platform's terms of service in gathering data for reports that documented a significant increase in hate speech on X following Musk's takeover.

The company claimed the CCDH was responsible for "tens of millions of dollars" in damages due to lost advertising revenue and the expense of internal investigations.

But Breyer wrote "there can be no mistaking" that the real motive of the suit was to bully X's critics into silence.

The decision cited a survey that found "social media researchers have canceled, suspended or changed more than 100 studies about X" as a result of Musk's policies as CEO.

When asked for comment on the decision, the press email for X replied, "Busy now, please check back later."

Musk has previously said he's a "free speech absolutist" and that his "thermonuclear" lawsuits against media-watchdog groups are about "protecting free speech."

In his scathing dismissal, Breyer said the CCDH exercising its First Amendment rights was the fundamental issue, despite X's attempt to sidestep it with arguments about data privacy and security.

In its complaint, X was seeking payment for advertising revenue it said it lost because of the CCDH's reports, but it stopped short of contesting any of the facts in those reports.

"It is apparent to the Court that X Corp. wishes to have it both ways," Breyer wrote, "to be spared the burdens of pleading a defamation claim, while bemoaning the harm to its reputation, and seeking punishing damages based on reputational harm."

In a footnote, he added: "If there is any question about the 'punishing' part, X Corp. filed a similar suit, not before this Court, in November of 2023 against Media Matters, another non-profit media watchdog, for 'reporting on ads from major brands appearing next to neo-Nazi content.'"

In a statement, the CCDH's CEO and founder, Imran Ahmed, said the lawsuit was part of Musk's "loud, hypocritical campaign of harassment, abuse, and lawfare designed to avoid taking responsibility for his own decisions."

"We hope this landmark ruling will embolden public-interest researchers everywhere," he added, "to continue, and even intensify, their vital work of holding social media companies accountable for the hate and disinformation they host and the harm they cause."

Read the original article on Business Insider