Elon Musk’s Legal Tussle with Online Hate Watchdog

In a legal battle between X Corp., the parent company of the social media giant formerly known as Twitter, and the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), the nonprofit online watchdog, the CCDH has moved to dismiss X Corp.’s lawsuit. The lawsuit, filed by X Corp. in August, accused the CCDH of intentionally driving away X’s advertisers through critical reports regarding the platform’s handling of hateful content.

X Corp.’s lawsuit specifically alleges that the CCDH violated Twitter’s terms of service and federal hacking laws by scraping data from the platform and encouraging an unnamed individual to collect information about Twitter improperly, which had been provided to a third-party brand monitoring provider.

However, the CCDH contends that X Corp.’s lawsuit is “riddled with legal deficiencies” and aims to punish the nonprofit for exercising its First Amendment protected speech. In their Thursday filing in the Northern District Court of California, the CCDH argued that, at its core, X Corp.’s grievance is not about the alleged violation of obscure contract terms but rather about criticism directed towards X Corp.’s actions that were made public.

X Corp. and a lawyer representing the company did not immediately respond to CCDH’s motion to dismiss. Since Elon Musk acquired the social media platform just over a year ago, CCDH, along with other researchers and online safety groups, has released a series of reports criticizing the platform’s handling of hate speech. These reports included evidence that anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric had increased under Musk’s leadership and that the platform was monetizing accounts that had previously been banned for spreading hateful content.

In response to the lawsuit, X Corp. posted a blog entry stating that the lawsuit was intended to support free expression and that it rejected all claims made by the CCDH.

Elon Musk has attributed X’s decline in advertising revenue to the CCDH and other watchdog groups. In September, Musk accused the Anti-Defamation League of being responsible for the company’s 60% drop in ad revenue, despite X Corp.’s efforts to implement new brand safety controls for advertisers. X Corp.’s lawsuit alleges that it has lost “at least tens of millions of dollars” in advertising revenue.

However, following Musk’s takeover, some advertisers expressed concerns about mass layoffs affecting their contacts within the company and uncertainty about the platform’s future. Some brands paused their advertising campaigns after their ads were displayed alongside hateful content. Musk himself has also generated controversy on the platform, such as encouraging users to follow an account known for spreading misinformation during the Israel-Hamas conflict. Recently, Musk agreed with an antisemitic post on X, endorsing a claim that Jewish communities promote “hatred against Whites.”

CCDH’s CEO, Imran Ahmed, stated that the group’s response to X’s lawsuit is meant to show that they are not intimidated. He highlighted the irony in Musk’s stance, noting that Musk claims to support a free marketplace of ideas while suing those who criticize his platform. Ahmed emphasized that CCDH’s research aimed to shed light on the issues of hate and misinformation on X Corp.’s platform.

In addition to the motion to dismiss, CCDH has also filed a motion to strike most of X Corp.’s claims under California’s “anti-SLAPP” law. This law could require X Corp. to demonstrate that it is likely to succeed in its claim before the case proceeds and may expedite the dismissal of X Corp.’s lawsuit if it is found to be related to CCDH’s protected speech.

Among the allegations in X Corp.’s complaint, the company accuses CCDH of breach of contract for allegedly violating Twitter’s Terms of Service by “scraping X to obtain data” for a report. In response, CCDH argued in its motion to dismiss that they used the platform’s “own search function to collect publicly available information.” CCDH also pointed out that despite X Corp.’s claims that their research had cost the platform advertising revenue, X Corp. had not asserted a defamation claim.

“Understandably so, since it cannot allege that the CCDH Defendants said anything knowingly false, nor does it wish to invite discovery on the truth about the content on its platform,” the group’s Thursday filing stated.

The legal battle between X Corp. and the CCDH continues as both parties present their arguments in court. The outcome of this case will have implications for the broader debate on online free speech and the responsibilities of social media platforms in addressing hate speech and misinformation.

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