A judge just killed Elon Musk’s lawsuit against an anti-hate research org

A federal judge sided against Elon Musk today, dismissing a lawsuit brought by Musk and X targeting a nonprofit that researches online hate.

X sued the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) last year, accusing the group of spreading misleading claims after it published a series of unflattering reports about hate and extremism on the platform. In the lawsuit, X claimed that it lost “tens of millions of dollars” as a direct result of the CCDH’s research.

Musk and X also accused the CCDH of illegally scraping data and breaking the platform’s rules by aggregating content through a third-party social media monitoring tool called Brandwatch. Musk, who personally directed the lawsuit, called the CCDH “an evil propaganda machine” in replies on X.

Last year, the CCDH filed a motion to strike X’s claims under California’s law against Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP), meant to prevent frivolous lawsuits whose intention is primarily to intimidate, and asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit. CCDH CEO Imran Ahmed accused Musk, who is worth around $200 billion, of deliberately drawing out the legal process to run up the organization’s legal costs.

United States District Judge of the Northern District of California Charles R. Breyer granted the CCDH’s motion to dismisson Monday. Breyer also denied Musk and X the opportunity to relitigate the case.

“Sometimes it is unclear what is driving a litigation, and only by reading between the lines of a complaint can one attempt to surmise a plaintiff’s true purpose,” Judge Breyer stated in the ruling. “Other times, a complaint is so unabashedly and vociferously about one thing that there can be no mistaking that purpose.

“X Corp. has brought this case in order to punish CCDH for CCDH publications that criticized X Corp.—and perhaps in order to dissuade others who might wish to engage in such critics.”

In the months following Musk’s takeover of Twitter, the CCDH highlighted the rise of hate speech on the platform, including a report that explored how his decision to unban a number of highly followed extremists could give the company an ad revenue boost. That included infamous neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin, who created the white supremacist website The Daily Stormer.

The nonprofit, formed in 2018, researches trends in hate speech, extremism and misinformation on major social nertworks. Its research regularly details disturbing content across social platforms, including reports on eating disorder content on TikTok, climate denial on YouTube and violent misogynistic threats on Instagram.

“We create costs for lies and hate,” Ahmed said following the ruling. “The courts today have affirmed our fundamental right to research, to speak, to advocate, and to hold accountable social media companies for decisions they make behind closed doors that affect our kids, our democracy, and our fundamental human rights and civil liberties.”

The nonprofit’s legal team included Roberta Kaplan, who was fresh off of a massive win against former president Donald Trump in the E. Jean Carroll defamation suit. “Today’s decision proves that even the world’s wealthiest man cannot bend the rule of law to his will,” Kaplan said of Monday’s ruling.

While the CCDH’s victory in California is a relief to researchers who track online extremism, Musk is pursuing a similar lawsuit against the left-leaning media watchdog Media Matters for America. Unlike the CCDH lawsuit, X is suing Media Matters for America in Texas, which doesn’t share California’s protections against frivolous lawsuits designed to stifle free speech.

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