X has been in the news quite a bit lately, ever since Elon Musk decided to strip it of its original name, Twitter, and give it a completely new brand identity. Now, the legal team at the company is threatening to sue a number of independent researchers who highlighted an increase in hate speech on the platform since its acquisition by billionaire Elon Musk.
The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a nonprofit organization that operates in both the United States and the United Kingdom, received a letter from X’s legal team with a warning of legal action in response to the nonprofit’s research on content moderation and hate speech. Attorneys from X alleged that research released by the CCDH is inflammatory and was published with the intent of harming the business and deterring advertisers from investing in the platform.
However, this isn’t the first time CCDH has made such claims. The company regularly publishes reports regarding extremism and hate speech found on social media, including Facebook, TikTok, and the former Twitter.
Since Musk’s takeover of the platform, the CCDH has pointed out an uptick in the spread of climate misinformation and anti-LGBTQ hate speech. The latest report, which was published in June, revealed several instances in which the platform violated its own rules by failing to remove anti-LGBTQ and neo-nazi hate speech.
In response to the CCDH claims, X attorney Alex Spiro wrote a letter questioning the credibility of the nonprofit and its researchers. Spiro also insinuated that the company likely received funding from X’s competitors. However, there is no evidence to back up these claims, and the CCDH has published several critical reports about competitors like TikTok and Facebook in the past.
The founder and CEO of CCDH, Imran Ahmed, noted how concerning the response from X was, as even through the many years of studying the relationship between hate speech and social media, the company has never received retaliation like this. Typically, companies under criticism will put out commitments to identify and address the issues or defend the work that they are already doing to mitigate them.
Ahmed is now worried that the reaction might deter other research groups from analyzing the platform and publishing their results. This could set a dangerous precedent for the social media industry.
He also notes that Musk is declaring open war on the nonprofit’s researchers, and if he is successful in doing so, they likely won’t be his last target. Neither X nor Spiro has responded to the concerns as of today.
This would not be the first time, however, that Musk has reacted aggressively to criticism. He once threatened to sue a Twitter user who was tracking his plane via public flight data and suspended a journalist’s account who was covering his Twitter takeover.
Though the journalist was eventually allowed to return to the platform, Musk’s actions raise concerns about research and information suppression in the future and what implications it could have on social media users.