X, Sues Researchers Who Showed Rise in Hate Speech on Platform After Musk Takeover

The rebranded social media giant X Corp., formerly known as Twitter, has recently engaged in a fierce legal tussle with the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a British nonprofit organization. X has lodged a lawsuit against CCDH in a federal court in Northern California. The company accuses CCDH of unlawful access and utilization of its data to bolster assertions deemed inaccurate by X: that the platform is flooded with detrimental content.


The Origin of Conflict: A Research Study

The contentious spark ignited in June when CCDH published a study highlighting a surge in antisemitic and anti-Muslim hate speech on Twitter subsequent to the buyout by tech tycoon Elon Musk. The research investigated 100 distinct accounts subscribed to Twitter Blue, concluding that X failed to address 99% of the hate propagated by its users. Moreover, CCDH raised questions over whether X’s algorithms were inadvertently boosting the reach of noxious tweets.


Controversial Accusations

In its lawsuit, X Corp. contends that CCDH exploited data it didn’t legally possess to falsely substantiate its claims of the platform being overwhelmed by harmful content. The corporation has requested a jury trial, indeterminate monetary damages, and seeks to prevent CCDH and its associates from accessing data offered by X to the social media-listening platform, Brandwatch. This lawsuit trails a letter dated July 20 sent by X to CCDH, accusing the latter of spreading deceptive assertions about X and conspiring to drive away its advertisers.


Musk’s Discordant Stand on Free Speech

The billionaire innovator Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX and primary owner of X, has often advocated for free speech, branding it as the foundation of a thriving democracy. He portrays X as the digital town square facilitating crucial societal debates. However, some of Musk’s actions seemingly conflict with his avowed stance on free speech. These include forcing Tesla customers to sign nondisclosure agreements and taking legal action against some of his most outspoken critics.


A Backlash Against Musk’s Tactics

Imran Ahmed, the founder and CEO of CCDH, has strongly criticized Musk’s actions. “Elon Musk’s latest legal threat is straight out of the authoritarian playbook. He is now showing he will stop at nothing to silence anyone who criticizes him for his own decisions and actions,” Ahmed said. The CCDH CEO maintains that the research is an attempt to shed light on the spread of hate and disinformation under Musk’s stewardship and that the lawsuit is a transparent effort to quash these findings.


X’s Recent Controversial Decisions

X’s litigation isn’t the only area drawing criticism. Recently, the company has faced backlash for its decisions concerning contentious accounts. Notably, it reinstated a right-wing account that had shared child sex abuse material and controversial artist Ye’s account, which had previously been suspended for disseminating antisemitic remarks and Nazi symbols.


A Cascade of Legal Proceedings

The current lawsuit against CCDH joins a spate of legal actions and threats from X and Musk in recent months. In May, X sent a letter to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella accusing the tech titan of abusing its access to Twitter data for unauthorized purposes. In July, X threatened to sue Meta, Facebook’s parent company, over its new Threads app. The company alleged systematic and illicit misappropriation of X’s intellectual property.


Recently, X filed another data scraping lawsuit in Dallas, seeking damages over unauthorized data associated with Texas residents. It also sued Israel-based Bright Data for allegedly scraping and selling content and user data without authorization. Data scraping is generally considered legal in the U.S., per a 2022 U.S. Ninth Circuit of Appeals ruling.


As a final note, it’s crucial to remember that the increasing confluence of technology, social media, and free speech rights continues to pose significant challenges in our increasingly digitized society. This lawsuit is just one manifestation of the broader tensions at play in this evolving landscape. The outcome of this case, and others like it, could have significant implications for the future of free speech and data privacy on social media platforms.