Combating hate speech online may be a noble goal, but not everyone is in agreement about the best approach. The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) advocates for big tech companies to stop providing services to individuals who spread hate and misinformation. CCDH had publicly criticized X (formerly known as Twitter) for allowing hateful content on its platform, and now in a new twist, X has brought its own lawsuit against CCDH, accusing the organization of everything from flawed reporting to targeting its advertisers.
According to X’s suit, CCDH is alleged to have violated Twitter’s Terms of Service, (ToS) to have misrepresented information obtained from Brandwatch to speak against Twitter, and to have gained access to X’s data without Brandwatch’s authorization (via Axios). Brandwatch is a service that provides social media analytics, monitoring, and management tools, which CCDH used for some of its research. X goes into detail about the claims in a blog post, but the lawsuit essentially brings into question where free speech ends and libel begins, as X claims that CCDH has been intentionally working to attack the company and damage its ability to profit from advertising.
One specific instance the lawsuit brings up is when Bloomberg published an article asserting that over “the first three months of Musk’s tenure the rate of daily tweets containing slurs against Black Americans more than tripled.” In the article, CCDH’s head of research, Callum Hood, claimed that hate speech had increased on Twitter since Musk took over. That reporting included citations based on Brandwatch’s services, and this story was picked up on other sites. However, Brandwatch tweeted that the research presented by CCDH was flawed.
The lawsuit brings up other instances, like X claiming the CCDH stated its “researchers used the social media web-scraping tool SNScrape, which utilizes Twitter’s search function to enable data collection.” We’re unable to locate such language in the article mentioned in the claim, even while using the Wayback machine to see when it was first published. If CCDH really did use SNScrape for that purpose, it would seem to go directly against Twitter’s ToS agreement, which makes clear, “scraping the Services without the prior consent of Twitter is expressly prohibited.”
Data scraping is hard to explain legally but everyone must agree to Twitter’s ToS before making an account — whether that is legally enforceable will be seen in this lawsuit. That might take a fair bit of time, as for now the suit is only in its early stages, experts are just beginning to weigh in, and CCDH stills needs to prepare its counterargument. A big company like X taking on a small non-profit feels like a David and Goliath situation, and we’re sure we haven’t heard that last of this legal action yet.