Lawsuit from Elon Musk’s X against anti-hate speech group dismissed by US judge

A smartphone displays Elon Musk's profile on X, the app formerly known as Twitter.

Getty Images | Dan Kitwood

A US judge has struck down a lawsuit brought by X against a nonprofit group that researched toxic content on the social media platform, finding the Elon Musk-owned company’s case appeared to be an attempt at “punishing” the group for exercising free speech.

The Center for Countering Digital Hate had sought to dismiss the case from X, which alleged the nonprofit unlawfully accessed and scraped X data for its studies. The CCDH found a rise in hate speech and misinformation on the platform. X had also alleged the group “cherry-picked” from posts on the platform to conduct a “scare campaign” to drive away advertisers, costing it tens of millions of dollars.

In a stinging ruling, US judge Charles Breyer in California granted the motion. “Sometimes it is unclear what is driving a litigation, and only by reading between the lines of a complaint can one attempt to surmise a plaintiff’s true purpose. Other times, a complaint is so unabashedly and vociferously about one thing that there can be no mistaking that purpose. This case represents the latter circumstance. This case is about punishing the defendants for their speech,” he wrote in the decision.

The judge found that on top of punishing the CCDH for a report criticizing the company, X appeared to have filed the suit “perhaps in order to dissuade others who might wish to engage in such criticism.”

The lawsuit is just one of several bitter disputes between Musk, a self-declared “free speech absolutist,” and civil rights groups and academics whose research argues the platform has not been adequately policed following the billionaire’s takeover in late 2022.

It comes as X’s revenue has fallen after brands pulled away over Musk’s decision to relax moderation on the platform. He, in turn, has lashed out at advertisers, saying last year that those who have left should “go fuck themselves” despite the company struggling financially.

CCDH chief executive Imran Ahmed said following the ruling: “The courts today have affirmed our fundamental right to research, to speak, to advocate, and to hold accountable social media companies for decisions they make behind closed doors that affect our kids, our democracy, and our fundamental human rights and civil liberties.”

He described the suit as “Elon Musk’s loud, hypocritical campaign of harassment, abuse, and lawfare designed to avoid taking responsibility for his own decisions.”

In a statement on X, the company said it disagreed with the court’s decisions and “plans to appeal.” Musk did not immediately comment on the case but last week wrote on the platform that the CCDH was a “truly evil organization that just wants to destroy the first amendment under the guise of doing good!”

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