In June, the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate said in a report that Twitter failed to remove hate speech -- including racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic comments -- posted by Twitter Blue subscribers.
For that report, researchers gathered offensive tweets made by 100 Twitter Blue subscribers, and reported the posts to the company.
One of the Blue subscribers posted, “Trannies are pedophiles,” according to the nonprofit.
Another wrote, “Diversity is a codeword for White Genocide.”
Four days later, all of the accounts were still active, and Twitter had failed to act on 99% of the posts, the watchdog said.
How did Twitter (now named X) respond to this report? The same way the company reacted to Meta's launch of Threads -- with a legal threat.
On July 20, Twitter lawyer Alex Spiro said in a letter to Imran Ahmed, CEO of the nonprofit, that its report was “false and misleading,” and that Twitter was investigating a potential claim under the Lanham Act, which covers false advertising and disparagement.
Spiro wrote that the nonprofit “regularly posts articles making inflammatory, outrageous, and false or misleading assertions about Twitter,” and that it “fixes this label on its outlandish conclusions about Twitter 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 published by any reputable organization.”
He goes on to accuse the nonprofit of trying “to harm Twitter’s business by driving advertisers away from the platform with incendiary claims.”
Spiro adds: “We have reason to believe that your organization’s operations -- and thus its campaign to drive advertisers off Twitter by smearing the company and its owner -- are supported by funding from X Corp.’s commercial competitors, as well as government entities and their affiliates.”
On Monday, Roberta Kaplan, an attorney for the Center for Countering Digital Hate replied to Spiro's “ridiculous letter.”
The allegations regarding a supposed effort to scare off advertisers “have no basis in fact,” and “represent a disturbing effort to intimidate those who have the courage to advocate against incitement, hate speech and harmful content online, to conduct research and analysis regarding the drivers of such disinformation, and to publicly release the findings of that research, even when the findings may be critical of certain platforms,” she writes.
She also blasts the company over its “bogus” threat to investigate whether the nonprofit violated the Lanham Act.
“The statements you complain about constitute political, journalistic, and research work on matters of significant public concern, which obviously are not constrained by the Lanham Act in any way,” she writes. “Moreover, as a nonprofit working to stop online hate, [the Center for Countering Digital Hate] is obviously not in competition with Twitter, which makes your allegations of a Lanham Act injury even more fanciful.”
Whether Twitter owner Elon Musk actually intends to pursue litigation against the nonprofit isn't yet known, but a lawsuit -- or just threatening one -- against a nonprofit that called attention to hate speech on the platform doesn't seem like the best strategy for winning back advertisers.