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Elon Musk at a trade show in Paris: accusations against researchers

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Twitter, renamed X by Elon Musk, is taking critical online researchers to court for exposing hate speech and misinformation online. In the lawsuit (PDF), X Corp. accuses the organization CCDH (Center for Countering Digital Hate) of illegally accessing data from the short message service. X had been damaged by the researchers' reports because advertisers had jumped ship.

For the lawsuit, X Corp. sought out previous reports from the CCDH, which included misinformation about the coronavirus and climate change. The CCDH is now accused of having retrieved large quantities of tweets in violation of Twitter's usage rules. In addition, she had unlawfully accessed data that had been made available to the analysis company Brandwatch.

With Brandwatch, businesses can track online posts related to their brands. X alleges that the CCDH tricked a Brandwatch customer into giving the organization its credentials. The researchers would then have used them to research for their reports. X does not yet know who this customer is supposed to have been. In addition, X claims that the CCDH intentionally wants to harm the platform and is financed by competitors. Here, too, there is no evidence in the complaint.

Controversy over hate speech report

The lawsuit filed on Tuesday night has a different focus than a previous threat of legal action by Musk's lawyer Alex Spiro to CCDH. The letter, which became known on Monday, was about a report that the group had published in June. The lawyer criticized the conclusion that Twitter does nothing in 99 percent of hate speech when it comes from paying subscribers. He pointed out that the basis for this was only 100 tweets reported to the service.

The center's lawyer called the letter "ridiculous" and accused the company of trying to intimidate critics. She pointed out that some of the denounced tweets were clearly racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic, violating Twitter's rules. The reported posts stated, among other things, that "black culture" had done more damage than the racist secret society Ku Klux Klan, and that "the Jewish mafia" wanted to replace everyone. After four days, the tweets were still available, the CCDH emphasized.

CCDH lawyer Roberta Kaplan hinted that a lawsuit for the platform could also backfire: The organization would then immediately demand detailed information on how to deal with hate speech and the company's turnover. However, X's specific legal allegations in the lawsuit do not relate to the content of the CCDH reports, but to the methods used to collect the data for them. The platform is also claiming damages, citing the loss of ad revenue.

Ad revenue issues and Blink logo issues

Musk had bought Twitter in October 2022 for around $44 billion (currently around €40 billion). He accused the previous Twitter leadership of suppressing right-wing political views and promised "absolute freedom of speech." This deterred some large advertisers who feared a negative environment for their brands. The billionaire recently admitted that advertising revenue was only half as high as it was before the takeover.

This is a big problem for the platform, as ad revenue is its central source of income. The service is also burdened by loans of around twelve billion dollars, which Musk took out to finance the purchase. Even with the renaming of Twitter to X, things are not going smoothly: On Monday, the company had to dismantle a glowing X logo that had just been erected from the roof of the headquarters because it had been erected without the necessary permits.

What is legal may be claimed

Musk and his appointed Twitter boss Linda Yaccarino claim that the spread of hate speech on the service has declined sharply. They point out that "99.99 percent" of the posts displayed to users are "healthy". Musk explained the procedure: Everything that is legal can be claimed – but the dissemination of some statements can be restricted. At the same time, Musk cut off the previously existing access of independent researchers to Twitter data, so that his claims can no longer be verified directly at the source.

In the lawsuit, X now claimed that the CCDH did not want to fight hate speech, but to ban views from online media with which it disagrees. This includes topics such as climate change and corona vaccines. Musk himself had downplayed corona risks. In recent months, he has also repeatedly displayed right-wing political views, accusing US media of being racist towards whites. Over the weekend, rapper Kanye West, who had been banned for repeated anti-Semitic remarks, was allowed to return to the platform.