Twitter's lawsuit against anti-hate-speech crusaders gets SLAPPed out of court

How's that free comment thing working out, Elon?

Elon Musk's attempt to use the courts to silence a nonprofit documenting hate speech on X has been dismissed by a California judge, who said it was clear the billionaire's legal action was all about putting a lid on criticism.

In a 52-page order [PDF], San Francisco federal district judge Charles Breyer said, in essence, that Musk's lawsuit against the nonprofit was a classic example of a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, or SLAPP suit, a type of legal challenge designed to stifle free speech. 

"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 said in his ruling. "Other times, a complaint is so unabashedly and vociferously about one thing that there can be no mistaking that purpose."

"This case represents the latter circumstance," Breyer added. "This case is about punishing the defendants for their speech."

The lawsuit, filed by X Corp against the UK-based Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) last August, was ostensibly about recovering any revenue lost from advertisers fleeing the platform due to CCDH's reporting. 

According to X's suit, CCDH documenting troubling levels of hate speech on the platform, and the appearance of such comments next to paid ads, was a scare campaign designed to chase brands away from Musk's digital town square. The suit alleges not that what CCDH said was incorrect or defamatory, but rather that the data it used to compile the report was obtained without authorization from Brandwatch, an X Corp data partner.

Breyer, however, wasn't sold on X's claim that the suit was about data collection.

"It is impossible to read the complaint and not conclude that X Corp is far more concerned about CCDH's speech than it is its data collection methods," the judge said. Breyer later noted that X's motivation for bringing the case was an "evident" move to punish CCDH for criticizing X and dissuade other organizations from doing the same. 

X has filed a similar lawsuit against the US-based Media Matters nonprofit for its reporting on similar hate speech on X since Musk took ownership, and has threatened to take similar action against the Anti Defamation League, which is similarly accused of killing X's advertising revenue. 

The Media Matters lawsuit is ongoing, and was filed in a Texas federal district court.

CCDH celebrated its win over Musk and his social network, describing the ruling as sending "a strong message about seeking to censor those who criticize social media companies, which we are confident will resonate throughout Silicon Valley and beyond."

"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," CCDH founder and CEO Imran Ahmed said in a statement. 

The CCDH also took the opportunity to argue for a federal corporate transparency law akin to those in the UK, EU and elsewhere, which encourage or improve the sharing and availability of business data for people to inspect and scrutinize.

"It is archly ironic that in his zeal to shut down criticism, Elon Musk made the most eloquent case ever for statutory transparency rules," Ahmed said. "We will continue to use all legal tools to protect independent research against malicious, retaliatory lawsuits from powerful vested interests."

X Corp v. CCDH is now a closed case, as Breyer decided not to give X a chance to amend its complaint, calling its request to do so "a dilatory move" designed to "force CCDH to spend more time and money defending itself before it can hope to get out from under this potentially ruinous litigation." Bryer said the CCDH had met the burden of proving X's suit was a SLAPP case, and that X was unlikely to prevail on its claims, even with an amended complaint. 

X didn't respond to questions though it's believed the biz may try to appeal. ®

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