X Corp., the parent company of the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, filed a lawsuit in San Francisco federal court Monday against a nonprofit organization that monitors hate speech and disinformation, following through on a threat that had made headlines hours earlier.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, accuses the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) of orchestrating a "scare campaign to drive away advertisers from the X platform" by publishing research reports claiming that the social media service failed to take action against hateful posts. The service is owned by the technology mogul Elon Musk.
In the filing, lawyers for X. Corp alleged that the CCDH carried out "a series of unlawful acts designed to improperly gain access to protected X Corp. data, needed by CCDH so that it could cherry-pick from the hundreds of millions of posts made each day on X and falsely claim it had statistical support showing the platform is overwhelmed with harmful content."
The complaint specifically accuses the nonprofit group of breach of contract, violating federal computer fraud law, intentional interference with contractual relations and inducing breach of contract. The company's lawyers made a demand for a jury trial.
The lawsuit was filed just hours after the CCDH revealed that Musk's lawyer, Alex Spiro, had sent the organization a letter on July 20 saying X Corp. was investigating whether the CCDH's "false and misleading claims about Twitter" were actionable under federal law.
In a statement to NBC News, CCDH founder and chief executive Imran Ahmed took direct aim at Musk, arguing that the Tesla and SpaceX tycoon's "latest legal threat is straight out of the authoritarian playbook — he is now showing he will stop at nothing to silence anyone who criticizes him for his own decisions and actions."
"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," Ahmed added in part. "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.
"The CCDH's independent research won’t stop — Musk will not bully us into silence," Ahmed said in closing.
The research report that drew particular ire from X Corp. claimed that the platform had failed to take action against 99% of 100 posts flagged by CCDH staff members that included racist, homophobic and antisemitic content.
Musk has drawn fierce scrutiny since buying Twitter last year. Top hate speech watchdog groups and activists have blasted him for loosening restrictions on what can be posted on the platform, and business analysts have raised eyebrows at his seemingly erratic and impulsive decision-making.
The Center for Countering Digital Hate's research has been cited by NBC News, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and many other news outlets.
Musk, who has been criticized for posting conspiratorial or inflammatory content on his own account, has said he is acting in the interest of "free speech." He has said he wants to transform Twitter into a "digital town square."
Musk has also claimed that hate speech on the platform was shrinking. In a tweet on Nov. 23, Musk wrote that “hate speech impressions” were down by one-third and posted a graph — apparently drawn from internal data — showing a downward trend.