Elon Musk’s rebranded Twitter, now known as ‘X’, has followed through on its legal threat against a London-based non-profit group.

On Monday this week the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) revealed that Twitter had last month threatened to sue it, after the group had published research on the social media platform’s alleged failure to take action against hate speech.

Now X has followed through on its threat and filed a lawsuit in San Francisco federal court accuses CCDH of deliberately trying to drive advertisers away from Twitter by publishing reports critical of the platform’s response to hateful content.

Image credit: Elon Musk/X/Twitter

CCDH lawsuit

Elon Musk’s firm specifically claims 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.

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.

“Defendants Center for Countering Digital Hate, Inc and Center for Countering Digital Hate Ltd. (collectively “CCDH”) — activist organisations masquerading as research agencies, funded and supported by unknown organisations, individuals and potentially even foreign governments with ties to legacy media companies – have embarked on a scare campaign to drive away advertisers from the X platform,” Twitter alleged in its lawsuit.

“CCDH has done this by engaging in a series of unlawful acts designed to improperly gain access to protected X Corp. data, needed by CCDH so that it could cherry-pick from the hundreds of millions of posts made each day on X and falsely claim it had statistical support showing the platform is overwhelmed with harmful content,” it added.

CCDH response

CCDH’s CEO Imran Ahmed however told CNN that much of the lawsuit, particularly its claim about the unnamed individual, “sounds a bit like a conspiracy theory to me.”

“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 reportedly said, “because we all know that when he took over, he put up the bat signal to racists and misogynists, to homophobes, to antisemites, 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.”

Last week the account of rapper Kanye West returned to Twitter after an eight-month ban triggered by posts containing anti-Jewish material.

“All we do is hold up a mirror to the platform and ask them to consider whether or not they like the reflection they see in it,” Ahmed was quoted by CNN as saying. “What Mr. Musk has done is said, ‘I’m going to sue the mirror because I don’t like what I see.’”

In the past 24 hours, Ahmed said, thousands of people have visited CCDH’s website and many have made donations to the group.

“That’s what we’re going to need if we’re going to survive this,” he reportedly said. “The reason that organisations like CCDH have to rely on methodologies like we do is because there is no transparency on these platforms.”

Twitter this week reorganised the reporting structure of its trust and safety team, which will now report to both owner Elon Musk and chief executive Linda Yaccarino.

It comes after Ella Irwin resigned as head of the team in June.

Other legal action

Twitter has been busy on the legal front of late.

In May X sent a letter to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella accusing Redmond of improperly using its data.

In July Twitter accused Facebook parent Meta Platforms of copying Twitter’s trade secrets in creating its rival social media app Threads.

X also sued law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz last month in an effort to recoup what it said were excessive fees paid to the firm as a reward for preventing Musk from backing out of his deal to buy Twitter last year.

Agence France-Presse lawsuit

Meanwhile French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) announced in a press release on Wednesday that it had filed a lawsuit in Paris against Elon Musk’s X platform.

AFP accuses X of failing to discuss potential payment for the distribution of the news agency’s content.

It comes after the European Union in 2019 had passed a copyright rule that compels large online platforms to open talks with publishers seeking remuneration for news.

This was transposed into French law in July of the same year.

“Agence France-Presse has expressed its concerns over the clear refusal from Twitter (recently rebranded as ‘X’) to enter into discussions regarding the implementation of neighbouring rights for the press,” the news agency was quoted as saying in a statement.

Musk however criticised AFP’s move in an X social media post.

“This is bizarre. They want us to pay *them* for traffic to their site where they make advertising revenue and we don’t!?” he tweeted. “Very French of them,” he added.

But the EU law does have teeth. In 2021, France’s antitrust watchdog fined Alphabet’s Google 500 million euros for failing to comply with orders on how to conduct talks with the country’s news publishers.

Google appealed and since then has committed to resolving the dispute and has announced deals with AFP and other leading French news organisations.

Meta Platforms’ Facebook has also signed agreements with some French publishers.

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...

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