Elon Musk has reached a new low, or at least a different one: he has threatened legal action against a non-profit. Never averse to digging deeper, Musk actually followed through on this commitment shortly after, suing the non-profit. The owner of X (formerly and still commonly known as Twitter) claims that the non-profit has worked to smear and damage both the company and its owner, but that is a somewhat skewed perspective on the true situation.
The non-profit in question is the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH). The British organization was founded in 2018 and aims to push big tech companies to prevent the spread of hate and misinformation. As well as tackling hatred against minority groups such as the LGBTQ+ community and Muslims, they also work to tackle misinformation campaigns, such as those pushed by anti-vaxx groups.
It might come as no surprise that Twitter is somewhat of a hellscape, but they have truly outdone themselves this Pride month.
CCDH made headlines back in March when U.S. Representatives Adam Schiff and Mark Takano called on Musk to address the rise in hate speech on X. In doing so, they cited CCDH’s study of then-Twitter’s issues with hate speech in the months following Elon Musk’s acquisition of the social media platform. Musk responded to the representatives via Tweet, attacking their intelligence rather than addressing the concern. The representatives in turn pointed out that in the wake of Musk’s response, the pair received “massive amounts of anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ comments and threats” on their X accounts.
Musk’s lawsuit against the Center for Countering Digital Hate alleges that they “falsely claim [the CCDH] had statistical support showing the platform is overwhelmed with harmful content.” This comes after the original letter threatening the lawsuit, authored by Alex Spiro, an attorney representing Musk, claimed the “CCDH intends to harm Twitter’s business by driving advertisers away from the platform with incendiary claims.”
It’s hard to see exactly how Musk imagines that this suit will stand up in any court of law. Quite aside from the fact that anyone who has used X over the past year knows that, a) hate speech is on the rise, and b) the biggest factor in driving away advertisers is not a report released in March, but Musk’s tweets and choices since purchasing the platform in 2022. Any platform that reinstates people after they post Nazi imagery over a Star of David is telling you exactly what it is, and advertisers were always going to take note.
Moreover, the CCDH report was not a quick tweet fired off to attack Musk and his platform. The 37-page document (which you can read in full here) fully details the group’s findings and the methodology that they used to come to those conclusions. These include details about the rise in anti-LGBTQ+ language around words associated with the hateful “grooming” narrative (which match with our own experiences of using X) and the associated ad revenue that presumably encourages Musk and X Corp not to do anything about it. CCDH estimated that “Just five Twitter accounts driving the ‘grooming’ narrative generate up to $6.4m per year for Twitter in ad revenue.”
CCDH provided comprehensive data and scientific methodology that demonstrated the problem. Musk, in his rebuttal, has provided nothing that actually contradicts anything. Rather he has adopted the Fox News playbook of reacting to this data that he dislikes with a combination of yelling “nuh-uh!,” sticking his fingers in his ears and humming loudly, and generally pretending he’s the victim while he continues to allow hate to be promoted through the X social media platform.
When the lawsuit was filed, it became clear that the biggest claim was that CCDH unlawfully accessed data to demonstrate the rise in hate speech on the platform. Verifying or disproving that claim would require more internal knowledge of the situation, but regardless it would not negate the very real problem the platform has with promoting hate. With the timing of this letter and lawsuit coming in the weeks immediately following Musk self-reporting that they’re in “negative cash flow” because of a “~50% drop in advertising revenue,” it seems probable that he’s just looking for a scapegoat.
It is worth noting, of course, that all of this highlights one more hypocrisy from Elon Musk. Throughout his tenure at Twitter and X-Corp, he has defended his choices to allow hate speech on the platform by citing free speech (while seeming to have only a partial understanding of what that means). To then respond to criticism by insisting that the critique shouldn’t be allowed because it causes damage is… perhaps entirely in character and predictable. Rather than attempting to deal with the hate that his platform is promoting, he is trying to attack people for even acknowledging it exists. All of this while actively reinstating accounts previously banned for promoting that very hatred.
While Musk has, much like Fox News and the rest of the right, repeatedly touted his love of free speech, it seems that he only appreciates it when very particular speech is “free.” Musk is pushing to censor people who are trying to actively criticize him. It perhaps should come as no surprise as he seems to continue to support Ron DeSantis’ bid for the United States presidency while the latter continues to censor schools and public offices from promoting or discussing diversity or conversations around sexual orientation and gender identity.♦