Twitter threatens to sue non-profit over hate speech research

1 Aug 2023

Elon Musk speaking at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Image: NASA/Kim Shiflett (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A lawyer representing X Corp has accused the CCDH of making ‘troubling and baseless claims’ with the intention of harming Twitter’s business.

Twitter – also known as X – has threatened to sue a non-profit organisation over claims it has made about hate speech on the social media site.

A letter from Alex Spiro – a lawyer representing Twitter’s parent company X Corp – was sent to the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) on 20 July. This organisation replied to the letter and shared both documents publicly.

The CCDH publishes reports on hate speech and other harmful behaviour that exists on social media sites. The non-profit claims social media sites “erode basic human rights” by enabling the spread of online hate speech and disinformation.

In the letter, Spiro accused the CCDH of making “troubling and baseless claims” that appeared to be designed to harm Twitter and its “digital advertising business specifically”.

“CCDH regularly posts articles making inflammatory, outrageous and false or misleading assertions about Twitter and its operations,” Spiro said in the letter.

One example Spiro referenced was a report by the CCDH that claims Twitter fails to act on 99pc of hate posted by Twitter Blue subscribers.

To conduct this research, the non-profit reviewed and reported 100 tweets that it claimed “plainly” violated the social media site’s policies. After four days, the CCDH said 99 of these tweets were still on the site.

“CCDH’s claims in this article are false, misleading, or both, and they are not supported by anything that could credibly be called research,” Spiro said. “This article leaves no doubt that CCDH intends to harm Twitter’s business by driving advertisers away from the platform with incendiary claims”

In response, the CCDH called the letter “ridiculous” and said the allegations had no basis in fact. The organisation also claimed the letter was a “disturbing effort to intimidate those who have the courage to advocate against incitement, hate speech and harmful content online”.

“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 CCDH said on its website.

Spiro is the same lawyer who sent a letter to Meta last month after Threads was released. This letter accused Meta of “systematic, wilful and unlawful misappropriation” of Twitter’s trade secrets and other intellectual property.

Elon Musk and free speech

Musk has claimed to be a ‘free-speech absolutist’ in the past. After he took over Twitter, Musk offered “amnesty” to suspended accounts, reinstating those that had breached the site’s policies.

But his free speech claims have been tested in the past. Last November, there were reports that he fired multiple Twitter engineers who had posted critical comments on the social network or on its internal Slack messaging system.

Twitter also faced criticism earlier this year for its decision to restrict access to some content in Turkey ahead of elections in the country.

Reports from earlier this year that looked at Twitter’s data claimed the platform had at least partially complied with almost all takedown requests from governments since Musk took over the platform. Roughly half of these requests came from Turkey, AlJazeera reported.

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Elon Musk speaking at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Image: NASA/Kim Shiflett via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic