Judge Signals Possible Dismissal of Elon Musk’s X Lawsuit Against Activist Group

Judge Signals Possible Dismissal of Elon Musk’s X Lawsuit Against Activist Group
'X' logo is seen on the top of the headquarters of the messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter, in downtown San Francisco, Calif., on July 30, 2023. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

A U.S. judge has signaled that social media platform X’s lawsuit against an activist group accused of causing tens of millions of dollars in damages to the company may be dismissed.

According to the lawsuit, which was filed in July last year, the “Center for Countering Digital Hate” (CCDH) initiated a scare campaign to discourage companies from advertising on the platform after it criticized a rise in hate speech following Elon Musk’s takeover in 2022.

According to X, the activist group breached its user contract by improperly scraping and cherry-picking data to falsely portray X as a platform that allows hate speech, extremism, and other misinformation since Mr. Musk’s acquisition of the platform.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer expressed skepticism on the issue, saying that CCDH was unlikely to have foreseen Mr. Musk’s acquisition of the social media platform, formerly known as Twitter, and that the takeover would have resulted in allowing users who had previously been banned for posting hateful content back on the platform, before entering into its user agreement.

“You’re telling me … it was foreseeable that Twitter would change its policy and allow these people to have access,” the San Francisco-based judge told X’s lawyer, Jon Hawk, in a video conference.

“I am trying to figure out, in my mind, how that’s possibly true, because I don’t think it is.”

Hawk responded by saying that if these changes were deemed unacceptable by CCDH, it could have simply left the platform.

“When CCDH agreed to stay on the platform, it agreed to successors’ versions of the policy,” he said.

Free Speech

John Quinn, a lawyer for the group, claimed that X’s lawsuit violated California’s “anti-SLAPP” law, which stands for “strategic lawsuits against public participation” and allegedly serves to stop lawsuits intended to silence critics.

Mr. Quinn dismissed allegations made in X’s lawsuit, saying CCDH should not be held responsible for companies’ independent decisions not to advertise on X.

“CCDH used a tool that runs searches for certain people to see what public tweets are being put out, and then they commented on it,” Quinn said. “[X] didn’t have any issues with that until advertisers reacted to the content of the report.”

Furthermore, Mr. Quinn added that for X to execute “the power to say, anybody who uses our search function and looks at tweets, if you use an automated tool in any way, we can come after you, sue you, drag you into court … runs straight into speech principles.”

However, according to Mr. Hawk, the reasons for X’s lawsuit go deeper than that.

“I understand CCDH does not like some of the content it may see,” he said. “This is about the security of data.”

European Lawsuit

A separate lawsuit by X against a Netherlands-based European activist group, “The European Climate Foundation,” accuses the group of collaboration with CCDH on illegal data scraping.

However, a lawyer for the foundation argued that the case should be dismissed based on the lack of the court’s jurisdiction.

Judge Breyer, meanwhile, did not give any indication of when he would rule on the matter or if X could file an amended complaint in the event of a dismissal of the case.

Allegations of Anti-Semitism

Elon Musk has faced accusations by multiple activist groups since acquiring X, as well as allegations of anti-semitism, after he commented on a post on the platform in November, which stated that some members of the Jewish community were stoking hatred against white people, saying the post was the actual truth.

However, Mr. Musk has since apologized for the comment, describing it as a foolish mistake. He publicly stated after making the comment that he is, in fact, “philo-semitic.”

Mr. Musk paid a visit to the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz in southern Poland in January.

Reuters contributed to this article.

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