By Samantha Flom
Social media company X, formerly known as Twitter, has filed a lawsuit against the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), alleging that the nonprofit research group engaged in a “scare campaign to drive away advertisers” from the platform.
The complaint (pdf), filed on July 31 in the Northern District of California, charges that CCDH’s American and British operations “engaged in a series of unlawful acts designed to improperly gain access to protected X Corp. data.”
The center has argued in favor of deplatforming individuals and companies that share content the group deems hateful or misinformation, including conservative websites like The Federalist.
X, meanwhile, has struggled in recent months to attract advertisers amid claims that harmful content and hate speech have been allowed to flourish on the platform under owner Elon Musk’s direction.
In its Monday filing, the social media company asserted that CCDH sought to bolster those claims by unlawfully accessing and “scraping” cherry-picked information from a secure database containing X data.
According to the complaint, CCDH employees allegedly accessed and retrieved the platform’s data “on multiple occasions without authorization” by convincing an unknown third party to share their login credentials for the database.
The lawsuit seeks damages, with interest, for alleged breach of contract, violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, intentional interference with contractual relations, and inducing breach of contract. The social media company also requested that CCDH be prohibited from further accessing, using, or disclosing any X materials or data.
In an Aug. 1 statement, CCDH CEO Imran Ahmed slammed the lawsuit as an “authoritarian” move, holding that Mr. Musk would “stop at nothing” to silence his critics.
He asserted: “The Center for Countering Digital Hate’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. … Musk is trying to ‘shoot the messenger’ who highlights the toxic content on his platform rather than deal with the toxic environment he’s created.”
Further noting that his organization has “no intention of stopping” its research, Mr. Ahmed added, “Musk will not bully us into silence.”
Since Mr. Musk’s 2022 takeover of Twitter, now X, he has implemented several changes, including nixing some of the platform’s more restrictive content policies and reinstating accounts suspended under those rules.
The new policy, which the company touts as “freedom of speech, not freedom of reach,” has been celebrated by conservatives as a more democratic approach to content moderation that preserves users’ First Amendment rights.
CCDH, however, has been a vocal detractor of the new policy, claiming that hateful content and disinformation have “skyrocketed” on the platform as a result.
For example, in June, the organization published an article that claimed X fails to address “99 percent of hate” posted by paid accounts.
To reach that conclusion, CCDH researchers reported 100 posts from Twitter Blue subscribers that they deemed were “promoting hate.” Four days later, the researchers checked the status of those reports to find that 99 of the reported posts and all 100 accounts were still active.
Those results, in CCDH’s view, suggested that X allows paid users to “break its rules with impunity.”
But in a July 11 letter (pdf) to Mr. Ahmed, X attorney Alex Spiro shared a different perspective.
“CCDH’s claims in this article are false, misleading, or both, and they are not supported by anything that could credibly be called research,” the attorney wrote. “The article provides no methodology for its selection or testing of tweets, no baseline for X’s enforcement time frame, and no explanation as to why the 100 chosen tweets represent an appropriate sample of the nearly 500 million tweets sent per day from which to generalize about the platform’s content moderation practices.”
Adding that the article “leaves no doubt” about CCDH’s intent to harm X by driving away advertisers, Mr. Spiro notified Mr. Ahmed that X was exploring legal action to prevent further harm to its business.
The latest lawsuit is the fifth that X has filed in recent weeks relating to unauthorized data collection.
In another lawsuit, the company alleged that four unnamed entities in Texas engaged in the unlawful scraping of X data, seeking more than $1 million in damages.
According to the lawsuit, the number of automated signup requests from the four defendants’ IP addresses far exceeded that which an individual could send to a server in a given period.
The massive data scraping, the company said, “severely burdened” the platform’s servers and “degraded the user experience for millions of X Corp.’s customers.”
Commenting on the lawsuit in an X post, Mr. Musk noted that the company’s controversial new limits on how many posts users could view in a day directly resulted from the referenced data scraping.
Reuters contributed to this report.