WASHINGTON: An anti-hate speech group on Monday accused Elon Musk’s X Corp of intimidation after the owner of the rebranded social media platform, formerly known as Twitter, threatened legal action over the group’s research.

On 20th July, an attorney representing X Corp sent a letter to the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) threatening legal action over their research on hate speech and content moderation. The letter alleged that CCDH’s publications aimed to harm Twitter’s business by driving advertisers away with incendiary claims.

In October 2022, Elon Musk completed his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter, earning praise for granting greater freedom to the platform, but some feared it could encourage misinformation and hate speech. Recently, Musk announced plans to rebrand Twitter as ‘X’, intending to transform it into a Chinese-style super-app.

CCDH has regularly conducted research into the platform’s content and has produced work claiming publication of hateful material on the site has risen since the acquisition.

Alex Spiro, a lawyer from US law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart and Sullivan representing Elon Musk, has written to CCDH and its chief executive, Imran Ahmed, accusing the organization of making “inflammatory, outrageous, and false or misleading assertions about Twitter.” The letter warns that legal action is being considered against CCDH’s alleged “false and misleading claims” under US laws. It emphasizes that Twitter will utilise all available legal tools to prevent such claims from harming its users, platform, or business.

CCDH’s press release quoted Mr Ahmed as saying that Mr Musk’s actions were an attempt to silence honest criticism and independent research to rebuild his relationship with advertisers. Mr Ahmed accused CEO of X Corp of supporting hate and racism on the platform, leading to advertisers fleeing. CCDH vowed to hold social media companies accountable for spreading hate and disinformation.

The press release also criticised Mr Musk for welcoming previously banned users, including neo-Nazis and white supremacists, and for making changes that allegedly toxified the platform. CCDH accused Mr Musk of using “billionaire bully-boy tactics” to silence critics, contradicting his commitment to open and transparent debate. The statement further alleged that Musk launched attacks on watchdog groups like CCDH instead of addressing serious issues raised by researchers about Twitter’s handling of hate and disinformation.

Mr Musk’s lawyer, however, accused CCDH of making a “series of troubling and baseless claims that appear calculated to harm Twitter generally, and its digital advertising business specifically”.

The lawyer underlined a CCDH article claiming that “Twitter fails to act on 99 per cent of Twitter Blue accounts tweeting hate,” which it says was based on CCDH staff reporting 100 tweets and checking whether action had been taken against them four days later.

CCDH accuses Musk of spreading hate and disinformation on Twitter as owner. Their research shows slurs in tweets increased by 202pc, LGBTQ+ grooming tweets doubled, and climate denial content surged. Twitter allegedly made $19m from ads on toxic accounts and verification fuelled disinformation.

Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2023

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