Twitter, now X, sues Center for Countering Digital Hate over research

X, the company formerly known as Twitter, sued a research group that had investigated hate speech on the social media platform, alleging that researchers violated its terms of service in a “scare campaign to drive away advertisers.”

In a lawsuit filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, X alleged that the American and British operations of the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) “engaged in a series of unlawful acts designed to improperly gain access to protected X Corp. data.”

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, with interest, for allegations that include breach of contract, violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, intentional interference with contractual relations and inducing breach of contract. It also asks that the CCDH and its agents be barred from accessing materials licensed to a tool that X’s attorneys alleged the group had used to obtain data.

The CCDH did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Tuesday regarding the lawsuit but said Monday that it had received a letter last week from X threatening to sue the organization over its work, which it said had exposed “the proliferation of hate and lies on Twitter since [Elon Musk] became the owner.”

Musk’s actions, the CCDH said, “represent a brazen attempt to silence honest criticism and independent research in the desperate hope that he can stem the tide of negative stories and rebuild his relationship with advertisers.” Twitter’s owner has called himself a “free-speech absolutist” and taken aim at “woke” language.

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X also alleged, without offering evidence for its claims, that the CCDH operations were “activist organizations masquerading as research agencies, funded and supported by unknown organizations, individuals and potentially even foreign governments with ties to legacy media companies.”

The filing also said that X “currently lacks sufficient information to include the identities [of] these entities, organizations, and persons,” but that “when their true names and capacities are confirmed through discovery,” it would amend the lawsuit to name the CCDH’s alleged backers.

The CCDH’s work was cited in a Bloomberg News article published last month about how a rise in “hateful, violent and inaccurate posts” on the platform, according to the CCDH and other organizations, had unsettled advertisers.

In research published in June, the CCDH found that Twitter had failed to take action against 99 of the 100 paid accounts it flagged to the platform with user-reporting tools for hateful conduct. Among the content the CCDH said it flagged were an anti-Semitic post and a transphobic post that falsely linked transgender people to pedophilia.

It also published research in February estimating that the reinstatement of 10 major accounts “renowned for publishing hateful content and dangerous conspiracies will generate up to $19 million a year in advertising revenue for Twitter.”

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Musk, who became the world’s richest person through Tesla and PayPal, bought Twitter last year. He then embarked on a dramatic overhaul of the platform, including a renaming of the social network — changing the sign on the company’s San Francisco headquarters has turned into a chaotic ordeal — and a temporary limit on how many tweets unpaid users can view, to the dismay of advertisers. The billionaire recently said the number of monthly users on X had reached a new high.