"Straight out of the authoritarian playbook": Hate speech watchdog sued by Musk's X hits back

Group says Musk trying to "shoot the messenger" instead of dealing with the "toxic environment he's created"

Published August 2, 2023 5:00AM (EDT)

Tesla and X CEO Elon Musk. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Tesla and X CEO Elon Musk. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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The internet watchdog Center for Countering Digital Hate hit back at billionaire Elon Musk Tuesday after X—his company formerly known as Twitter—sued the organization over its research into the dissemination of hate speech on the social media platform.

In a complaint filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for Northern California in San Francisco, X accused the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH)—a nonprofit with offices in the U.S. and United Kingdom—of "using flawed methodologies to advance incorrect, misleading narratives" and engaging in a series of unlawful acts designed to improperly gain access to protected X Corp. data" after the group published research critical of the social platform's failure to tackle hate speech.

One CCDH analysis found that X failed to remove 99% of hate speech posted by Twitter Blue users, who pay an $8 monthly subscription fee.

"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," CCDH founder and CEO Imran Ahmed said in response to X's lawsuit.

"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 continued. "People don't want to see or be associated with hate, antisemitism, and the dangerous content that we all see proliferating on X."

"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," he added. "CCDH has no intention of stopping our independent research—Musk will not bully us into silence."

Since purchasing Twitter for $44 billion last year, Musk has laid off around 80% of the company's workforce, including many content moderators. Last December, the company dissolved its Trust and Safety Council, an independent advisory board of around 100 human and civil rights experts.

Meanwhile, Musk—who describes himself as a "free speech absolutist" even as he allegedly purges left-wing users—has welcomed or reinstated the accounts of white supremacists, anti-LGBTQ+ bigots, election conspiracy theorists, antisemites, and others.

"This is an unprecedented escalation by a social media company against independent researchers. Musk has just declared open war," Ahmed toldThe Associated Press on Sunday. "If Musk succeeds in silencing us other researchers will be next in line."

By Brett Wilkins

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