X Corp., the parent company of the platform formerly known as Twitter, has followed through on a threat to sue a nonprofit whose research has documented a rise in hate speech on the social media service, alleging the organization has “embarked on a scare campaign to drive away advertisers.”
The suit filed in federal court in California on Tuesday accuses the Center for Countering Digital Hate of violating X’s terms of service by illegally obtaining the data that was used to conduct its research. CCDH “convinced an unknown third party — in violation of that third party’s contractual obligations — to improperly share login credentials to a secured database that CCDH then accessed, and retrieved information from, on multiple occasions without authorization,” states the complaint.
X faults CCDH for companies pausing their advertising spend on the platform. It seeks tens of millions of dollars in lost ad revenue and a court order blocking the organization and unnamed partners from accessing licensed material provided by the company for breach of contract, a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and intentional interference with contractual relations.
The suit was filed a day after CCDH publicly disclosed a letter sent on July 20 from Alex Spiro, a lawyer representing X, threatening legal action over research the organization released last month examining posts that contain content that violates Twitter’s policies. It found that that X “fails to act on 99% of hate posted by Twitter Blue subscribers,” claiming that the company is allowing them to break its rules “with impunity and is even algorithmically boosting their toxic tweets.” Musk was blamed for the alleged rise in hate speech on the platform alongside companies that continue to advertise on X.
In a statement, CCDH CEO Imran Ahmed said Musk is “showing he will stop at nothing to silence anyone who criticizes him for his own decisions and actions.”
The nonprofit’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 said. “People don’t want to see or be associated with hate, antisemitism, and the dangerous content that we all see proliferating on X.”
Instead of taking aim at the allegedly biased and flawed research, X argues that CCDH engaged in a series of unlawful acts to secure the data. It claims that the group obtained unauthorized access to data sets that were provided by the company to Brandwatch, which sells products that enable its customers to conduct brand monitoring on social media.
“Those data sets were and are accessible only via secure login credentials that Defendants (except for the third party who is included as a Doe Defendant and improperly shared its login credentials with CCDH) were never authorized to have,” writes Jonathan Hawk, a lawyer for X, in the complaint. “CCDH, in turn, and on at least two occasions after accessing that data without authorization, quoted the unlawfully accessed data incompletely and out of context to create unsubstantiated and incorrect assertions about the presence of hate speech on X.”
The suit also argues the group violated X’s terms of service by scraping data off the platform and that it’s being funded by X’s competitors, legacy media corporations and government entities, though there’s no evidence to back up the claim.
Notably, the complaint doesn’t claim a violation of the Lanham Act, a federal trademark law that allows companies to sue for false statements. In the letter sent to CCDH, Spiro accused the organization of violating the law by making false and misleading statements.
CCDH’s research explores hate speech, misinformation and other misconduct on social media platforms. It has published articles critical of TikTok pushing content that promotes eating disorders, Twitter generating ad revenue by reinstating banned accounts and YouTube profiting off of climate change denial videos. The group has denied accepting funds from competitors to Twitter or government entities.