Judge Tosses X/Twitter Lawsuit Against Group That Produced Study On Proliferation Of Hate Speech On Platform

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A federal judge tossed out a lawsuit brought by X/Twitter against a watching group that produced a study that examined the proliferation of hate speech on the platform.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer concluded that the platform, owned by Elon Musk, was attempting to chill the speech rights of the Center for Countering Digital Hate and other groups.

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The judge wrote that X’s “motivation in bringing this case is evident. X Corp. has brought this case in order to punish [Center for Countering Digital Hate] for CCDH publications that criticized X Corp.—and perhaps in order to dissuade others who might wish to engage in such criticism.”

X/Twitter had sued the group, claiming that in doing their study, they unlawfully “scraped” the platform for its data that led to an exodus of advertisers.

“X disagrees with the court’s decision and plans to appeal,” the company said.

Read the judge’s decision in the X case.

Imran Ahmed, founder and CEO of the watchdog group, wrote, “This ruling sends a strong message to those who aim at intimidating and silencing independent research.”

In his ruling, the judge even suggested that X/Twitter’s litigation had chilled other types of research into disinformation online. He pointed to a recent survey of 167 academics and researchers that “found that over 100 studies about X Corp. have been diverted, stalled, or canceled, with over half of those interviewed citing a fear of being sued by X Corp. over their findings or data.”

The judge also noted the similarities of this case to another one brought by X/Twitter against Media Matters for America, another watchdog group that published a study on the placement of ads on X next to inflammatory hate and racist posts.

Breyer wrote in a footnote, “If there is any question about the ‘punishing’ part, X Corp. filed a similar suit, not before this Court, in November of 2023 against Media Matters, another non-profit media watchdog, for ‘reporting on ads from major brands appearing next to neo-Nazi content.’ Prior to doing so, Musk threatened a ‘thermonuclear lawsuit’ against Media Matters…Musk’s post also claimed, remarkably, that the lawsuit was furthering X Corp. efforts ‘to protect free speech.'”

Breyer rejected X/Twitter’s arguments that the Center for Countering Digital Hate had created a security problem in its collection of data.  “It is impossible to read the complaint and not conclude that X Corp. is far more concerned about CCDH’s speech than it is its data collection methods,” the judge wrote.

The judge also rejected X/Twitter’s claims of harm to users. “There is no allegation in the complaint, and X Corp. did not assert that it could add an allegation, that CCDH scraped anything other than public tweets that ten X platform users deliberately broadcast to the world. No private user information was involved—no social security numbers, no account balances, no account numbers, no passwords, not even ‘gender, relationship status, ad interests etc.'”

The judge added, “It is clear to the Court that if X Corp. was indeed motived to spend money in response to CCDH’s scraping in 2023, it was not because of the harm such scraping posed to the X platform, but because of the harm it posed to X Corp.’s image. CCDH’s data collection allowed it to claim knowledge of what was occurring on the X platform in a cumulative sense. According to CCDH, its scraping revealed that X Corp. was generating millions of dollars in advertising revenue from previously banned accounts.”

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