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Elon Musk’s X Corp is suing the Center for Countering Digital Hate over suggestions there has been a rise in hate speech and disinformation on Twitter since the entrepreneur took over the platform.
In a legal filing lodged in a California court on Monday, the social media company alleged that the non-profit organisation unlawfully accessed and scraped data for its studies. It claims the CCDH “cherry-picked” from posts on the platform to conduct its work.
“It did so out of context in public reports and articles it prepared to make it appear if X is overwhelmed by harmful content, and then used that contrived narrative to call for companies to stop advertising on X,” reads the filing.
X, the new name for Twitter after a rebrand last month, has come under growing pressure since Musk closed his $44bn acquisition of the company in October. The billionaire entrepreneur has slashed the workforce and cut costs, while radical policy changes have frustrated users and marketers, with advertising revenues falling sharply.
The dispute with the CCDH was first revealed in a legal letter sent by X last month and released on Monday, in which the tech company threatened legal action over “inflammatory, outrageous and misleading assertions about Twitter and its operations”.
One piece of CCDH research referenced in the letter suggested that Twitter did not remove or take action on 99 per cent of posts it reported as “promoting hate” by accounts that subscribe to Twitter Blue, a paid service on the network.
The methodology included reporting 100 tweets from Twitter Blue accounts and checking to see if they had been removed or actioned four days later. Tweets flagged include alleged racist, homophobic and conspiracy-related comments. More tweets have subsequently been removed, but the CCDH said “the majority” remained.
“Advertisers are fleeing his platform for one clear reason: Elon Musk has supported the proliferation of hate and racism on it, and he doesn’t care to stop it,” said Imran Ahmed, chief executive of the CCDH, in a statement on Monday before X’s legal filing was lodged.
“Musk is targeting CCDH because we reveal the truth about the spread of hate and disinformation on Twitter under his ownership, and it’s impacting his bottom line.”
The legal filing claims the CCDH “embarked on a scare campaign to drive away advertisers” and that, in direct response to some of its published work, “some companies have paused their advertising spend” on the social network. X estimates it has lost at least tens of millions of dollars in related advertising revenues and other costs.
The filing also alleges that CCDH is an “activist organisation masquerading as [a] research [agency]” and “potentially funded by foreign governments with ties to legacy media companies.”
The CCDH has said it does not accept funding from tech companies, governments or their affiliates. It declined to comment on the legal action.
In March, Musk acknowledged a “massive decline in advertising” as marketers left the site following his takeover. It has since appointed Linda Yaccarino, a former NBCUniversal advertising head, as chief executive of Twitter. Yaccarino has been on a charm offensive, meeting media partners, publishers and talent agencies and introducing new measures to regain advertisers’ trust.
Twitter recently commissioned a report by software company Sprinklr that suggested more than 99 per cent of content on the platform was “healthy” and did not violate rules or laws.
Separately on Monday, Yaccarino made changes to the company’s trust and safety team, expanding some staffers’ roles and announcing new ones in areas such as “global content compliance”, according to an internal email seen by the Financial Times.
According to the email, X is also hiring a global head of “brand safety and suitability” — an advertising industry term referring to the risk that ads appear alongside problematic content and misinformation.