X Marks the Spot as Elon Musk Makes More Enemies

Technology Policy Brief #94 | By: Mindy Spatt | August 3, 2023

Photo taken from: rappler.com

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Elon Musk’s neighbors in San Francisco are up in arms about X, and he takes on a formidable litigator with a lawsuit against the Center for Countering Digital Hate.

Analysis

Elon Musk’s rebranding of Twitter as X landed with a thud here in San Francisco, where he marked the event by installing an enormous glowing X on his mid-Market Street headquarters.  Complaints poured in to the San Francisco Department of Building Inspections saying that the sign was unsafe and a nuisance, with flashing lights that interfered with neighbors’ sleep.  It was quickly removed.  Despite that, the Building Department announced that Musk would still have to pay fees for the installation and removal of the sign, both of which were unpermitted.

The move was perhaps part of a pissing match with Facebook, renamed with the shorter, punchier Meta, and its owner Mark Zuckerberg, who launched a new social media site Threads in a direct challenge to Twitter.  Threads racked up over 100 million followers in its first week, and most industry analysts see it as a genuine threat to Twitter’s dominance.  

Musk is also feeling challenged by a nonprofit advocacy organization that seeks to hold social media companies like X accountable for their impacts “by highlighting their failures, educating the public, and advocating action from other platforms and governments to protect our communities.”

On Monday July 30 X filed suit against the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) in federal court.  X is accusing the CCDH of using data that it didn’t legally possess to “falsely claim it had statistical support showing the platform is overwhelmed with harmful content.”  

Since Musk took over Twitter in late 2022, the CCDH has been studying and publishing research on what they say is a rise in hate speech, disinformation and incitement to harm on Twitter, a view that is certainly shared by other critics of the platform. 

In a June 2023 report the Center said Twitter routinely failed to act on hate speech by deleting tweets or users’ accounts, citing these examples:

  “The black culture has done more damage [than] the Klan ever did” 

  “The Jewish Mafia wants to replace us all with brown people”

  “Trannies are pedophiles”

  “Diversity is a codeword for White Genocide”

  “Hitler was right”, accompanied by a montage of the former dictator

   Black people belong “locked in cages at the zoo”

   LGBTQ+ rights activists need “IRON IN THEIR DIET. Preferably from a #AFiringSquad”

In a letter threatening suit on June 20, X cited this report in accusing  

the CCDH of “making inflammatory, outrageous, and false or misleading assertions about Twitter and its operations…”  Although the suit alleges misappropriation of data, the letter seems to complain of its’ absence,  claiming that CCDH labeled its analysis of the content as research, “despite failing to conduct (or even attempt) anything resembling the rigorous design process, analytical procedures or peer review that a reasonable person would expect to accompany research product …”

In a response, the Center’s lawyers termed the letter “ridiculous,” and noted that rather than trying to correct the problem the company was instead relying on intimidation and threats to silence critics.   They demanded that X Corp “take immediate steps to preserve all documents and other information (including any and all text messages to or from Mr. Musk…) concerning disinformation and hate speech on Twitter….”

The suit could be an arrogant overstep by Musk.  For one thing, it is bringing more attention to the CCDH’s message.  For another, the Center is represented by Roberta Kaplan, whose recent work on behalf of E. Jean Carroll resulted in a $5 million verdict against Donald Trump.  Her many other accomplishments include defeating the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and a $26 million verdict against the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who conspired to commit racially-motivated violence in Charlottesville in 2017.   She may prove a far more formidable adversary than Zuckerberg. 

Engagement Resources

Toxic Twitter: How Twitter Makes Millions from Anti-LGBTQ+ Rhetoric by the Center for Countering Digital Hate,  March 28, 2023CCDH, https://counterhate.com/research/toxic-twitter-anti-lgbtq/

 

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