An anti-hate speech nonprofit is asking a judge to throw out claims that it unlawfully scraped data from X Corp., formerly Twitter, in order to report on offensive speech on the platform and scare away advertisers.
In a motion filed Thursday with U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer in the Northern District of California, the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) and an affiliated group argue that the lawsuit represents an attempt by X Corp. to retaliate against critics and also “silence others who might speak up about X Corp. in the future.”
“Apparently unhappy with how it is faring in the marketplace of ideas, X Corp. asks this court to shut that marketplace down,” attorneys for the watchdog write.
“At its core, X Corp.’s grievance is not that the CCDH defendants gathered public data in violation of obscure (and largely imagined) contract terms, but that they criticized X Corp. (forcefully) to the public,” counsel adds.
The motion comes in response to a lawsuit brought by X Corp. in July, when it accused the nonprofit of scraping data in order to gather material for a “scare campaign” aimed at driving away advertisers and suppressing speech on social media.
The complaint includes claims that the nonprofit violated X's terms of service and a federal anti-hacking law.
X Corp. files suit one month after the watchdog reported that Twitter failed to remove objectionable speech -- including racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic comments -- posted by paid Twitter Blue subscribers. That report cited several examples, such as the posts “Diversity is a codeword for White Genocide,” and “Trannies are pedophiles.”
X Corp. -- which has seen ad revenue plummet since its acquisition by Elon Musk last year -- didn't deny that those posts were on the platform, but accused the watchdog of cherry picking its examples.
The Center for Countering Digital Hate Speech argues in its new papers that most of the accusations -- including claims that it violated X's terms of service -- center on “quintessential newsgathering activity,” and should therefore be struck down under California's anti-SLAPP (strategic litigation against public participation) law. That statute entitles defendants to fast dismissals of claims based on statements about matters of public interest, and also allows defendants to recover attorneys' fees.
The watchdog's motion also calls attention to the fact that the lawsuit doesn't include a libel claim.
“Conspicuously, X Corp. has not asserted a defamation claim -- understandably so, since it cannot allege that the CCDH Defendants said anything knowingly false, nor does it wish to invite discovery on the truth about the content on its platform,” the motion states. “Instead, X Corp. has ginned up baseless claims purporting to take issue with how the CCDH defendants gathered data that formed the basis for their research and publications.”
Breyer is expected to hold a hearing in the case in February.