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Twitter threatens legal action against nonprofit group that monitors hate speech

The Center for Countering Digital Hate accused X owner Elon Musk of making a "brazen attempt to silence honest criticism."
Workers install lighting on an "X" sign atop the company headquarters, formerly known as Twitter, in downtown San Francisco, on July 28, 2023.
Workers install lighting Friday on an "X" sign atop the headquarters for the company, formerly known as Twitter, in downtown San Francisco.Noah Berger / AP file

X Corp., the parent company of the social media app formerly known as Twitter, sent a letter this month to a nonprofit organization that researches digital hate speech and misinformation, accusing the group of making a "series of troubling and baseless claims that appear calculated to harm Twitter generally, and its digital advertising business specifically."

The Center for Countering Digital Hate uploaded screenshots of the letter to its website Monday under the heading, "Musk threatens CCDH with brazen attempt to silence honest criticism." In the three-page letter, dated July 20, Musk's lawyer described the organization's research as "false, misleading, or both" and argued that its methodologies were flawed.

Elon Musk's lawyer, Alex Spiro, cited one research report claiming that Twitter had failed to take action against 99% of the 100 posts flagged by CCDH staff members for "tweeting hate," including racist, homophobic and antisemitic content. Twitter Blue is the name of the subscription program for users who pay a monthly fee in exchange for account verification and other perks.

Spiro said the company was investigating whether the CCDH's "false and misleading claims about Twitter" were actionable under federal law. "Please be advised that Twitter will employ any and all legal tools at its disposal to prevent false or misleading claims from harming its users, platform, or business," Spiro said in closing.

In a response to Spiro, a lawyer for the CCDH defended the organization's research and blasted his assertions as "ridiculous."

"Your clients, of course, are free to pursue litigation if they choose to do so," Roberta A. Kaplan said in a letter to Spiro on Monday, which was also uploaded to the CCDH's website. "But they should be mindful of the risks involved in bringing frivolous claims to intimidate thoughtful critics and stifle legitimate commentary on issues of clear public interest."

In a statement that accompanied the letters, the CCDH said, "Elon Musk’s actions represent a brazen attempt to silence honest criticism and independent research in the desperate hope that he can stem the tide of negative stories and rebuild his relationship with advertisers."

The media relations team at did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment Monday.

Musk has drawn intense scrutiny since purchasing Twitter last year. Hate speech watchdog groups and activist organizations have excoriated him for loosening restrictions on what can be said on the platform, and business analysts have raised eyebrows at his seemingly erratic and impulsive decision-making.

The Center for Countering Digital Hate has been cited by NBC News, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and many other news outlets.

The tech mogul, 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.

In a statement Monday, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who is running for U.S. Senate, said that "Twitter has become a megaphone for antisemitism and anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech" since Musk took over the service.

"Notwithstanding his claims about content moderation and free speech, Musk has done nothing to stop the hate, but instead has focused on silencing critics," Schiff said. "Now, he’s trying to use his lawyers to go after a nonprofit organization for holding him to account."

"The Center for Countering Digital Hate continues to do important work exposing the hate and disinformation proliferating on the platform," Schiff added. "Instead of attacking them, he should be attacking the increasingly disturbing content on Twitter."