Nonprofit online watchdog the Center for Countering Digital Hate on Thursday hit back at Elon Musk’s X in a motion to dismiss the social media company’s August lawsuit.
X Corp., the parent company of the platform formerly known as Twitter, accused the Center for Countering Digital Hate of deliberately trying to drive away X’s advertisers by publishing reports critical of the platform’s response to hateful content. X’s lawsuit specifically claims that CCDH violated Twitter’s terms of service, and federal hacking laws, by scraping data from the company’s platform and by encouraging an unnamed individual to improperly collect information about Twitter that it had provided to a third-party brand monitoring provider.
CCDH claims that X’s lawsuit is “riddled with legal deficiencies” and attempts to punish the nonprofit for its First Amendment protected speech, according to its Thursday filing in the Northern District Court of California.
“At its core, X Corp.’s grievance is not that the CCDH Defendants gathered public data in violation of obscure (and largely imagined) contract terms, but that they criticized X Corp. (forcefully) to the public,” the filing states.
X and a lawyer representing the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on CCDH’s Thursday filing.
After Musk acquired the social media platform just over a year ago, CCDH — in addition to other researchers and online safety groups — released a series of reports criticizing the company’s handling of hate speech, including evidence, for example, that anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric had jumped under Musk’s leadership and that the platform was monetizing some previously banned but then reinstated accounts that were spreading hateful content.
In a blog post from X after filing its lawsuit, the company said the suit was intended to promote free expression and that it “rejects all claims made by the CCDH.”
Musk has blamed CCDH and other watchdog groups for X’s decline in advertising revenue. The billionaire in September accused the Anti-Defamation League of being the reason that the company’s ad revenue remained down 60%, despite efforts by X to promote new brand safety controls for advertisers. In its complaint against CCDH, X alleges it has lost “at least tens of millions of dollars” in advertising revenue.
However, after Musk’s takeover, some advertisers raised concerns about mass layoffs that affected their contacts within the company or general uncertainty about the platform’s future; other brands have paused spending after their ads ran alongside hateful content. The X owner himself has also been a controversial flashpoint on the platform — last month, in a post that was later deleted, Musk encouraged users to keep up with the Israel-Hamas war by following an account known for spreading misinformation. Just this week, Musk agreed with an antisemitic post on X, endorsing the claim that Jewish communities push “hatred against Whites.”
CCDH CEO Imran Ahmed told CNN that the group’s response to X’s lawsuit is meant to “show that we aren’t cowed by this.”
“Ironically, he doesn’t want a free marketplace of ideas about what he claims is his free marketplace of ideas,” Ahmed said. “CCDH’s research held up a mirror to Elon Musk’s increasingly toxic and ugly platform, and rather than doing the right thing and tackle the hate and lies which are disfiguring X, Mr. Musk chose instead to sue the mirror,” he added.
In addition to its motion to dismiss, CCDH’s filing also includes a motion to strike most of X’s claims under California’s “anti-SLAPP” law, which could require X to prove it is likely to succeed in its claim before the case can move forward and could allow for expedited dismissal if X’s lawsuit 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 the platform’s Terms of Service by “scraping X to obtain data” for a report. CCDH said in its motion to dismiss that the group, in fact, used the platform’s “own search function to collect publicly available information.” CCDH in its filing also notes that despite X’s allegations that the group’s research has cost the platform ad dollars, the company “has 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 states. “Instead, X Corp. has ginned up baseless claims purporting to take issue with how the CCDH Defendants gathered data that formed the basis for their research.”