Elon Musk vs. Center for Countering Digital Hate: Nonprofit wins dismissal of ‘baseless and intimidatory’ lawsuit brought by world’s richest man

Posted on March 25, 2024 in Press releases.

Musk picture next to CCDH's logo
  • Today the nonprofit research organization the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) won dismissal of all counts in a SLAPP suit brought by Elon Musk and X (formerly Twitter)
  • Musk filed the lawsuit in July 2023 in a brazen attempt to intimidate and censor CCDH over its reporting of hate speech and misinformation on X
  • CCDH said the ruling by the Honorable Charles R. Breyer ‘sent a strong message about seeking to censor those who criticize social media companies, which we are confident will resonate throughout Silicon Valley and beyond’
  • CCDH was represented by Roberta Kaplan, the renowned attorney who won an $83.3m defamation case against Donald Trump on behalf of E. Jean Carroll.
  • Nonprofit also called for federal transparency legislation ‘to protect the public’s right to know about the platforms that shape public discourse and democracy’

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 25, 2024 – Today, a federal judge in San Francisco granted the Center for Countering Digital Hate’s motion to dismiss and strike all claims in a lawsuit brought against it by Elon Musk and X Corp.

In its lawsuit, filed on July 31, X Corp. sought to blame CCDH for “tens of millions of dollars” in lost advertising revenue after the nonprofit reported on hate speech and misinformation on X/Twitter.

Lawyers for CCDH filed a motion to strike X Corp.’s claims under California’s law against Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) as well as a motion to dismiss the case in its entirety in November.

CCDH successfully argued that the lawsuit was a transparent attempt to shut down its free speech.

In his ruling, Honorable Charles R. Breyer, United States District Judge of the Northern District of California, denied Musk and X Corp.’s request to re-plead the case.

As well as granting CCDH’s motion to strike and dismiss, Judge Breyer also granted a motion by Stichting European Climate Foundation to have claims against it dismissed. 

In his ruling granting CCDH’s motion, Judge Breyer began by explaining:

“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. 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.”

He later added:

“It is also just not true that the complaint is only 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 Court notes, too, that X Corp.’s motivation in bringing this case is evident. 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… If CCDH’s publications were defamatory, that would be one thing, but X Corp. has carefully avoided saying that they are.”

Imran Ahmed, CEO and founder of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, said:

“Throughout Elon Musk’s loud, hypocritical campaign of harassment, abuse, and lawfare designed to avoid taking responsibility for his own decisions, CCDH has remained quietly confident in the quality and integrity of our research and advocacy. Our aim has always been to alert the world to corporate failures that undermine human rights and civil liberties.

“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.

“We hope this landmark ruling will embolden public-interest researchers everywhere to continue, and even intensify, their vital work of holding social media companies accountable for the hate and disinformation they host and the harm they cause.

“It is now abundantly clear that we need federal transparency laws, as the EU, UK, and many other jurisdictions are bringing into force, to protect the public’s right to know about the platforms that shape so much of our public discourse and democracy. It is archly ironic that in his zeal to shut down criticism, Elon Musk made the most eloquent case ever for statutory transparency rules.

“We will continue to use all legal tools to protect independent research against malicious, retaliatory lawsuits from powerful vested interests.”

Roberta Kaplan, of Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, said:

“Today’s decision proves that even the world’s wealthiest man cannot bend the rule of law to his will. We are grateful for the district court’s careful and comprehensive opinion, which refuses to allow Elon Musk and X Corp. to weaponize the courts to censor good-faith research and reporting. We are living in an age of bullies, and it’s social media that gives them the power that they have today. It takes great courage to stand up to these bullies; it takes an organization like the Center for Countering Digital Hate. We are proud and honored to represent CCDH.”