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US Judge Dismisses Lawsuit by Musk's X Against Hate Speech Researchers

FILE - Workers install lighting on an "X" sign atop the company headquarters, formerly known as Twitter, in downtown San Francisco, July 28, 2023.
FILE - Workers install lighting on an "X" sign atop the company headquarters, formerly known as Twitter, in downtown San Francisco, July 28, 2023.

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by Elon Musk's X Corp. against the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate, which has documented the increase in hate speech on the site since it was acquired by the Tesla owner.

X, formerly known as Twitter, had argued the center’s researchers violated the site’s terms of service by improperly compiling public tweets, and that its subsequent reports on the rise of hate speech cost X millions of dollars when advertisers fled.

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer dismissed the suit, writing in his order that it was “unabashedly and vociferously about one thing" — punishing the nonprofit for its speech.

X had alleged that the nonprofit “scraped” its site for data, which is against its terms of service. But the judge found that X failed to “allege losses based on technological harms” — that is, the company didn't show how the scraping led to financial losses for X.

X had sought millions of dollars in damages, arguing that the nonprofit’s reports led to the exodus of advertisers and the loss of ad revenue.

But the judge agreed with CCDH’s argument saying X cannot seek damages for the independent acts of third parties based on CCDH’s reports, or its “speech.”

The center is a nonprofit with offices in the U.S. and United Kingdom. It regularly publishes reports on hate speech, extremism or harmful behavior on social media platforms like X, TikTok or Facebook. The organization has published several reports critical of Musk’s leadership, detailing a rise in anti-LGBTQ hate speech as well as climate misinformation since his purchase.

In a statement posted to X, the social media platform said it “disagrees with the court’s decision and plans to appeal.”

Imran Ahmed, the center’s founder and CEO, said the lawsuit amounted to a “hypocritical campaign of harassment” by a billionaire who talks about protecting free speech but who then uses his wealth to try to silence his critics. He said the lawsuit shows the need for a federal law requiring tech companies to release more information about their operations, so that the public can understand how these powerful platforms are shaping society.

The center is not the only group that has pointed to the rise of hateful material on X since Musk’s purchase in October 2022. Last November, several big advertisers including IBM, NBCUniversal and its parent company Comcast, said that they stopped advertising on X after a report from the liberal advocacy group Media Matters said their ads were appearing alongside material praising Nazis. It was yet another setback as X tried to win back big brands and their ad dollars, X’s main source of revenue. X has also sued Media Matters.