Elon Musk and his X platform (formerly Twitter) has not done enough to establish a lawsuit claims against a hate speech watchdog.

This is according to US federal judge Charles Breyer, after Reuters noted he had signalled on Thursday he may dismiss X Corp’s lawsuit against the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH).

The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a London-based non-profit that fights hate speech and disinformation, had last year published research about X’s alleged failure to take action against hate speech on its platform.

Image credit: X

Lawsuit allegations

Elon Musk’s Twitter then threatened to sue the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, accusing the non-profit of making “a series of troubling and baseless claims that appear calculated to harm Twitter generally, and its digital advertising business specifically”.

Musk has always claimed himself to be “free-speech absolutist”, but days after his threat to sue was revealed, he ordered X in August 2023 to sue CCDH in a San Francisco federal court, accusing CCDH of deliberately trying to drive advertisers away from Twitter by publishing reports critical of the platform’s response to hateful content.

Twitter specifically claimed CCDH had 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.

The X complaint also accused CCDH of engaging in a wide-ranging campaign to silence users of Twitter’s platform by calling attention to the views they post on social media.

CCDH’s CEO Imran Ahmed at the time rejected the lawsuit allegations.

“The truth is that he’s [Elon Musk] been casting around for a reason to blame us for his own failings as a CEO,” Ahmed said at the time, “because we all know that when he took over, he put up the bat signal to racists and misogynists, to homophobes, to anti-semites, saying ‘Twitter is now a free-speech platform.’ … And now he’s surprised when people are able to quantify that there has been a resulting increase in hate and disinformation.”

In September CCDH refused to back down, and reported 300 tweets to Elon Musk’s platform, that contained extreme hate.

Of that number of hate speech tweets, X had left up 259 of them.

Not proven

But now Reuters has reported that on Thursday in a San Francisco federal court, Senior District Judge Charles Breyer signalled he may dismiss X Corp’s lawsuit, after suggesting that Elon Musk’s platform hasn’t done enough to establish its claims.

Judge Breyer repeatedly interrupted X’s attorney Jon Hawk as he pointed out the company failed to clear a key legal threshold to assert damages and that it ignored an opportunity to bring a defamation case.

Judge Breyer was also sceptical that when the non-profit entered the standard user contract governing all Twitter and X users, it could have foreseen that Musk would buy Twitter for $44 billion in 2022 and welcome back users it had banned for posting hateful content.

“You’re telling me … it was foreseeable that Twitter would change its policy and allow these people to have access,” the San Francisco-based judge told X’s lawyer Jon Hawk in a video conference.

“I am trying to figure out, in my mind, how that’s possibly true, because I don’t think it is,” the judge reportedly said.

Hawk said the non-profit could have left X if it didn’t like Musk’s changes. “When CCDH agreed to stay on the platform, it agreed to successors’ versions of the policy,” he said.

CCDH defence

Meanwhile John Quinn, the CCDH lawyer reportedly said X’s lawsuit violated California’s so-called anti-SLAPP law, or strategic lawsuits against public participation, which was meant to stop lawsuits intended to silence critics.

He also called it “implausible” to suggest the non-profit engaged in scraping, and said it could not be liable for advertisers’ “independent” decisions not to work with X.

“CCDH used a tool that runs searches for certain people to see what public tweets are being put out, and then they commented on it,” Quinn said. “X didn’t have any issues with that until advertisers reacted to the content of the report.”

Quinn also said giving Musk and X “the power to say, anybody who uses our search function and looks at tweets, if you use an automated tool in any way, we can come after you, sue you, drag you into court … runs straight into speech principles.”

X’s Hawk said that wasn’t why X sued.

“I understand CCDH does not like some of the content it may see,” he said. “This is about the security of data.”

Judge Breyer did not say when he would rule, or if X could file an amended complaint if he dismissed the case.

Reuters reported that X has also sued the European Climate Foundation, a non-profit based in The Hague, Netherlands that promotes efforts to mitigate climate change, accusing it of conspiring with the Center for Countering Digital Hate to illegally gather data.

A lawyer for the European non-profit said it should be dismissed from the case because the court lacked jurisdiction.

Anti-Semitic tweets

Elon Musk himself had courted controversy over a number of his tweets late last year.

In November 2023, Musk endorsed an anti-Semitic post on X that said members of the Jewish community were stoking hatred against white people, saying the user who had tweeted it, spoke “the actual truth.”

That drew a strong rebuke from the White House, which condemned Elon Musk’s endorsement of what it called a “hideous” anti-Semitic conspiracy theory on X.

The White House then announced it was creating multiple official accounts on Twitter rival platform, Threads.

Musk apologised for endorsing this conspiracy theory, admitting it was probably the dumbest post he had ever made.

But Musk’s rare public apology for one of his gaffes, was overshadowed by the choice language he used when questioned about an advertising boycott in late November, which some reports suggest could cost Twitter around $75m in lost revenues.

Advertising boycott

X and its CEO Linda Yaccarino had to contend with an advertising exodus, after Media Matters for America (another non-profit group) had found adverts from IBM, Apple, Bravo (NBCUniversal), Oracle, and Xfinity (Comcast) appearing alongside extremist content that praised Adolf Hitler on X.

After the advertising pull out, Elon Musk responded by filing a “thermonuclear” lawsuit against Media Matters, claiming it had filed an “intentionally deceptive report”.

Musk then publicly told fleeing advertisers to go f*** themselves, during an on-stage interview at The New York Times DealBook Summit.

When Musk was questioned about the advertising boycott, he lashed out and seemed to single out the boss of Disney Bob Iger.

“I don’t want them to advertise,” Musk responded. “If someone is going to blackmail me with advertising or money go [expletive] yourself”.

Musk then doubled down in front of the shocked audience.

“Go. [Expletive]. Yourself,” he slowly reiterated. “Is that clear? Hey Bob, if you’re in the audience, that’s how I feel.”

He seemed to refer to Disney chief executive Bob Iger, who had spoken at the summit earlier in the day.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

Recent Posts

EU Set To Approve Apple Plan For Opening NFC Access

European Commission reportedly set to approve Apple proposal for providing rivals access to iPhone, iPad…

22 mins ago

TSMC Shocks Investors With Lower Chip Growth Forecast

TSMC pulls back on forecast of global chip industry growth for 2024, stirring concerns around…

52 mins ago

Google Shifts Rules For Contract Firms Amidst Labour Battle

Google removes benefits requirements for contract firms as US labour board seeks to force union…

1 hour ago

Group Supporting Women In Tech Abruptly Closes

Non-profit group Women Who Code shuts down abruptly after losing 'critical' funding sources, in blow…

2 hours ago

Netflix Reports Profits Surge, But Forecast Disappoints

Netflix shares slump as it reports profit surge but says it will stop reporting subscriber…

2 hours ago

Tesla Recalls Thousands Of Cybertrucks Over Accelerator Fault

Tesla recalls 3,878 Cybertrucks over safety issue that could cause accelerator pedal to become stuck,…

3 hours ago