Judge tosses out X lawsuit against hate-speech researchers, saying Elon Musk tried to punish critics

A federal judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit by Elon Musk’s X Corp. against the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate, ruling that the case was about “punishing” the research group for its speech.

The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) has documented the increase in hate speech on the site since it was acquired by the Tesla owner in 2022. X, formerly known as Twitter, sued the nonprofit last year, claiming the center’s researchers violated the site’s terms of service by improperly compiling public tweets.

X argued that the CCDH’s reports on the rise of hate speech on the service had cost it millions of dollars when advertisers fled. On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer dismissed the suit, writing in his order that it was “unabashedly and vociferously about one thing” — punishing the nonprofit for its speech.

In a statement posted to X, the social media platform said it “disagrees with the court’s decision and plans to appeal.”

It’s not the only time Musk’s X has sued after a group flagged issues with hate speech on the social media platform.

Last November, several big advertisers including IBM, NBCUniversal and its parent company Comcast, said that they stopped advertising on X after a report from the liberal advocacy group Media Matters said their ads were appearing alongside material praising Nazis. The report proved to be yet another setback as X sought to win back big brands and their ad dollars, X’s main source of revenue.

In November, X sued Media Matters, alleging that the group was trying to “drive advertisers from the platform and destroy X Corp.”

Later that month, Musk went on an expletive-ridden rant in response to advertisers that halted spending on X in response to antisemitic and other hateful material, saying they are are engaging in “blackmail” and, using a profanity, essentially told them to go away.

Seeking millions from CCDH

In suing the CCDH, X had sought millions of dollars in damages from group, arguing that the nonprofit’s reports led to the exodus of advertisers and the loss of ad revenue.

But the judge agreed with CCDH’s argument saying X cannot seek damages for the independent acts of third parties based on CCDH’s reports, or its “speech.”

X had also alleged that the CCDH had “scraped” its site for data, which is against its terms of service. But the judge found that X failed to “allege losses based on technological harms” — that is, the company didn’t show how the scraping led to financial losses for X.

The center is a nonprofit with offices in the U.S. and United Kingdom. It regularly publishes reports on hate speech, extremism or harmful behavior on social media platforms like X, TikTok or Facebook. The organization has published several reports critical of Musk’s leadership, detailing a rise in anti-LGBTQ hate speech as well as climate misinformation since his purchase.

“Hypocritical campaign of harassment”

Imran Ahmed, the center’s founder and CEO, said the lawsuit amounted to a “hypocritical campaign of harassment” by a billionaire who talks about protecting free speech but who then uses his wealth to try to silence his critics. He said the lawsuit shows the need for a federal law requiring tech companies to release more information about their operations, so that the public can understand how these powerful platforms are shaping society.

“We hope this landmark ruling will embolden public-interest researchers everywhere 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,” said Ahmed.

Roberta Kaplan, the center’s attorney, said the dismissal of X’s suit shows “even the wealthiest man cannot bend the rule of law to his will.”

“We are living in an age of bullies, and it’s social media that gives them the power that they have today,” Kaplan said in an email to reporters. “It takes great courage to stand up to these bullies; it takes an organization like the Center for Countering Digital Hate. We are proud and honored to represent CCDH.”

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