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X Corp. accused a non-profit organization and its backers in a lawsuit filed Monday of unlawfully accessing private data and choosing specific posts to show a rise in hate speech on the social media platform under Elon Musk’s ownership.
Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the social media company formerly known as Twitter claims the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) — a British non-profit that researches so-called online hate and disinformation — orchestrated a “scare campaign to drive away advertisers from the X platform” by publishing so-called hate speech reports.
“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,” the lawsuit reads.
The complaint comes just hours after a letter from X attorney Alex Spiro threatening legal action against the non-profit organization last month made recent headlines.
Spiro reportedly wrote in the July 20 letter that the center made “a series of troubling and baseless claims that appear calculated to harm Twitter generally, and its digital advertising business specifically,” citing eight examples that X reportedly called “false, misleading or both” from improper research methods.
Last month, the center claimed X — before taking on its new brand — failed to act on 99% of “toxic” tweets involving “racist, homophobic, neo-Nazi, antisemitic, or conspiracy content” posted by Twitter Blue subscribers.
CEO Linda Yaccarino and X officials have labeled the report “false,” according to Reuters, adding that it was based on “a collection of incorrect, misleading, and outdated metrics, mostly from the period shortly after Twitter’s acquisition.”
Months after purchasing the platform for $44 billion last year, Musk said the company saw a decrease in “hate speech impressions,” paired with a graph seemingly derived from internal data showing the downward trend dropped by roughly 30%.
Hate speech impressions down by 1/3 from pre-spike levels. Congrats to Twitter team! pic.twitter.com/5BWaQoIlip
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 24, 2022
The social media platform also accused the CCDH of using unlawfully accessed data to “falsely claim it had statistical support showing the platform is overwhelmed with harmful content.”
According to the lawsuit, X is seeking a jury trial and unspecified monetary damages and wants to block the non-profit and any of its backers or employees from accessing data provided by X to the social media listening platform Brandwatch.
“Recently Brandwatch made X aware that the CCDH gained access to X’s data without Brandwatch’s authorization, and that the purported CCDH ‘research’ cited in a Bloomberg article ‘contained metrics used out of context to make unsubstantiated assertions about X (formerly Twitter),'” the company wrote in a blog post. “Additionally, the CCDH has recently scraped X’s platform, which is a violation of our terms of service.”
CCDH founder and chief executive Imran Ahmed told NBC News in a statement the “latest legal threat 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.”
“The Center for Countering Digital Hate’s research shows that hate and disinformation is spreading like wildfire on the platform under Musk’s ownership and this lawsuit is a direct attempt to silence those efforts,” Ahmed added. “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.”
Musk previously said he bought the company to combat content “fueled and catered” by legacy media outlets.
Musk previously said, “it is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence.”
“There is currently great danger that social media will splinter into far right wing and far left wing echo chambers that generate more hate and divide our society,” he added.