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X Corp., the parent company of the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, on Monday sued the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), alleging the group “embarked on a scare campaign” to deter advertisers from the platform by “engaging in a series of unlawful acts designed to improperly gain access to protected X Corp. data.”
Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the lawsuit accused CCDH of “masquerading” as a research agency and using improperly obtained login credentials to access company data.
According to the complaint, CCDH used the data to “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.”
X Corp. estimated it lost at least tens of millions of dollars in advertising revenue and other costs as a direct result of CCDH’s actions.
We’re still negative cash flow, due to ~50% drop in advertising revenue plus heavy debt load. Need to reach positive cash flow before we have the luxury of anything else.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 15, 2023
Citing CCDH’s claims, Time magazine last month wrote that “during Musk’s tenure, hate speech towards minority communities increased.” Time quoted CCDH’s director of research, Callum Hood, as saying, “Musk is not keeping his promises to advertisers, and their ads are appearing next to really harmful content.”
Despite claims by Imran Ahmed, CCDH’s CEO and founder, that the organization has “never taken government money,” at least one of its funders received U.K. government funding and many of its board members have U.K. government ties.
X Corp.’s lawsuit follows just weeks after Alex Spiro, an attorney representing X Corp., wrote in a letter to Ahmed that X Corp. was investigating whether CCDH’s “false and misleading claims about Twitter are actionable under Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act.”
“CCDH regularly posts articles making inflammatory, outrageous, and false or misleading assertions about Twitter and its operations, which CCDH holds out to the general public as supported by ‘research.’”
He specifically called out a CCDH article that referenced “new research” showing Twitter “fails to act on 99% of hate posted by Twitter Blue subscribers,” suggesting the platform is allowing them to break its rules “with impunity and is even algorithmically boosting their toxic tweets.”
“Review of the article reveals that this ‘research’ was limited to tasking CCDH staff to report 100 individual tweets as violations of Twitter’s rules, and then check whether those tweets had been removed or otherwise actioned four days later.
“The article provides no methodology for its selection or testing of tweets, no baseline for Twitter’s enforcement time frame, and no explanation as to why the 100 chosen tweets represent an appropriate sample of the nearly 500 million tweets sent per day from which to generalize about the platform’s content moderation practices.”
Ji told The Defender that Musk’s lawsuit, “while self-interested, has profoundly positive implications for all U.S. citizens and their First Amendment rights” by calling out a “malign foreign influence operation” whose defamatory attacks against private individuals and entities have caused reputational and financial damage.
“This lawsuit stands to put CCDH, their colluders in the U.S. media and government, as well as their dark money funders overseas, on notice that the laws of this land, and the U.S. Constitution which vivifies them, will not be trampled upon so disgracefully without a good fight.”
CCDH, in its March 2021 report, alleged that 12 accounts produced the majority of “anti-vaccine disinformation” on social media.
Facebook investigated and dismissed the report, releasing a statement saying that “There isn’t any evidence” to support the claims and that the small sample used in CCDH’s analysis was “in no way representative of the hundreds of millions of posts that people have shared about COVID-19 vaccines.”
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., chairman on leave from Children’s Health Defense, was one of the 12 in CCDH’s crosshairs. On Monday he tweeted:
As a target of CCDH’s fraudulent smear campaign, I’m happy to join @elonmusk in a libel lawsuit suit against this sketchy outfit. It’s time for us to push back against hate speech. #Kennedy24https://t.co/Tjsgd78jmu
— Robert F. Kennedy Jr (@RobertKennedyJr) August 1, 2023
According to Variety, Ahmed provided the following statement about the lawsuit:
“Elon Musk’s latest legal move 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.
“Musk is trying to ‘shoot the messenger’ who highlights the toxic content on his platform rather than deal with the toxic environment he’s created. CCDH has no intention of stopping our independent research — Musk will not bully us into silence.”
According to Ji, “Mainstream media outlets are reporting on Musk’s move in a negative light,” which he said is “to be expected, given how they’ve worked in lock-step collusion with CCDH during previous campaigns, either attacking or defending on their behalf, without fail.”
The Defender on occasion posts content related to Children’s Health Defense’s nonprofit mission that features Mr. Kennedy’s views on the issues CHD and The Defender regularly cover. In keeping with Federal Election Commission rules, this content does not represent an endorsement of Mr. Kennedy who is on leave from CHD and is seeking the Democratic nomination for president of the U.S.