Judge dismisses Musk suit against Center for Countering Digital Hate

A federal judge in California on Monday threw out the entirety of a lawsuit by Elon Musk’s X against the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), ruling that the lawsuit was an attempt to silence X’s critics.

“X Corp.’s motivation in bringing this case is evident,” U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer wrote in a 52-page ruling. “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 criticism.”

X sued the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit in July 2023 after it published a series of reports critical of the site. X alleged that the group improperly gained access to data about X to “falsely claim” that the social media platform was overwhelmed with harmful content. It argued that those claims influenced advertisers to spend less money on the site, costing X tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue.

The ruling is a win for research groups that study online platforms and a blow to Musk’s campaign to portray X’s loss of advertisers as a vast conspiracy against him. Under Musk, X has also sued the nonprofit Media Matters for America in a case that is ongoing in federal court in Texas, and it threatened to sue the Anti-Defamation League before reaching a détente with that group.

Breyer dismissed the suit under California’s strict laws against what are known as SLAPPs, or strategic lawsuits against public participation. The judge did not mince words in his finding that the suit lacked merit and appeared to be a blatant attempt to intimidate researchers and critics.

“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,” Breyer wrote. “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. This case is about punishing the Defendants for their speech.”

Imran Ahmed, CCDH’s CEO, cheered the ruling in a phone interview Monday, calling it a “complete victory” that should “embolden” public-interest researchers everywhere to continue their work.

“It is quite clear that this was an unconstitutional attempt to shut down the free speech of critics of Elon Musk, by Elon Musk, a self-proclaimed ‘free-speech absolutist,’” Ahmed said. “It’s an enormous relief to the team at CCDH that we now can continue our mission to hold these companies accountable.”

Jonathan Hawk, an attorney representing X in the case, declined to comment.

Taylor Telford contributed to this report.

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