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Judge throws out Elon Musk's X lawsuit against nonprofit

Musk targeted the Center for Countering Digital Hate after it released a report called “Toxic Twitter” last year about hate speech and conspiracy theories on the platform.
Elon Musk in Krakow, Poland
Elon Musk in Krakow, Poland, on Jan. 22, 2024.Sergei Gapon / AFP via Getty Images file

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge on Monday threw out a lawsuit filed last year by Elon Musk’s X platform against the nonprofit organization Center for Countering Digital Hate. 

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer dismissed the lawsuit and wrote that it was an attempt to silence the center for its reports about rising hate speech and conspiracy theories on X. 

“This case is about punishing the Defendants for their speech,” the judge wrote

In a statement Monday, X said that it disagreed with Breyer’s decision and planned to appeal. 

Musk, who has called himself a free speech absolutist, targeted the Center for Countering Digital Hate after it released a report called “Toxic Twitter” last year, when X was known as Twitter. That report said that Twitter under Musk’s ownership had reinstated the accounts of previously suspended “neo-Nazis, white supremacists, misogynists and spreaders of dangerous conspiracy theories,” and that Twitter stood to profit from additional advertising as a result. 

X sued the center and a separate nonprofit, the European Climate Foundation, which X’s lawyers said conspired with the center to illegally obtain data about the platform’s advertising. The lawsuit said that the organizations had “cherry-picked” information and that they were unlawfully interfering with X’s relationship with advertisers. 

But Breyer wrote in his ruling that X was simply trying to silence its critics. He ruled that X’s suit violated a California law barring litigation that is designed to punish free speech, cases that are also known as “strategic lawsuits against public participation” or SLAPP. 

“X Corp.’s motivation in bringing this case is evident. X Corp. has brought this case in order to punish CCDH for CCDH publications that criticized X Corp. — and perhaps in order to dissuade others who might wish to engage in such criticism,” Breyer wrote. 

“Although X Corp. accuses CCDH of trying ‘to censor viewpoints that CCDH disagrees with,’ it is X Corp. that demands ‘at least tens of millions of dollars’ in damages — presumably enough to torpedo the operations of a small nonprofit — because of the views expressed in the nonprofit’s publications,” he added. 

“If CCDH’s publications were defamatory, that would be one thing, but X Corp. has carefully avoided saying that they are.” 

The Center for Countering Digital Hate celebrated the dismissal and said that Musk had tried to “weaponize the courts to censor good-faith research and reporting.” 

“A huge win for everyone working to hold social media giants to account,” the center said on X. 

“We’ll continue to expose hate & lies wherever we see them and to stand for independent research,” it said. 

The center plans to request reimbursement of its legal costs from X, a spokesperson told NBC News.

“Because CCDH prevailed on its anti-SLAPP motion, X Corp. is indeed on the hook for CCDH’s legal fees under the anti-SLAPP statute,” the spokesperson said. “The specific amount of fees will need to be hashed out in court, and CCDH plans to initiate that process as soon as practicable.” 

Breyer in a separate ruling also dismissed the claims against the European Climate Foundation. The foundation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.