Musk’s Meltdown Timeline: CCDH against Elon Musk’s attacks on independent research

Posted on September 01, 2023 in News.

Montage of Elon Musk with open arms next to Twitter's logo

In the year since Elon Musk took over Twitter, the platform has become synonymous with chaos, erratic management, and free space for the proliferation of online hate and disinformation. Hate and misinformation spreaders, including previously banned accounts, have been emboldened by this lack of impunity and are now filling their pockets with revenue-sharing payments from major brands.

On October 27, Elon Musk became Twitter’s owner and promised advertisers that he would turn the platform into a digital town square where “a range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence.” In the months following his takeover, CCDH’s research, along with research from a range of other organizations and academics, showed that Musk was failing to stop the spread of hate and misinformation on Twitter. Advertisers left in their droves and paused their ad dollar spend on the platform. Instead of dealing with these problems, Musk has decided to take legal action against CCDH. In effect – shooting the messenger, rather than fixing the message.

Here’s a timeline of Musk’s Meltdown:

  • October 27, 2022: Elon Musk takes over Twitter. In a letter to advertisers, he says Twitter aspires to become the “most respected advertising platform in the world.”
  • October 28, 2022: CCDH joins other leading organizations in warning that Musk’s plans for Twitter could cause a surge in hate on the platform.
  • November 4, 2022: Elon Musk claims that hate speech is declining on Twitter.
  • November 10, 2022: CCDH demonstrates that the volume of hate speech on Twitter had actually increased significantly.
  • December 2, 2022: CCDH analysis shows “climate scam” tweets surged under Musk.
  • December 23, 2022: CCDH analyzes popular tweets from Twitter Blue subscribers about Ukraine, climate, and vaccines, showing 27% promote misinformation.
  • February 9, 2023: CCDH’s research reveals that Elon Musk’s decision to reinstate just ten accounts banned for hate and misinformation could make Twitter $19 million a year.
  • April 17, 2023: CCDH analysis shows that climate deniers’ accounts were growing rapidly under Musk.
  • March 28, 2023: CCDH demonstrates that tweets mentioning the anti-LGBTQ+ community alongside “grooming” slurs jumped 119% under Musk.
Image of CCDH's Toxic Twitter report cover
  • July 18, 2023: On Twitter, Elon Musk describes CCDH as “truly evil” and calls our CEO a “rat”. Imran Ahmed retweets Musk’s attacks and says his petulance is due to the fact CCDH holds him accountable. 
  • July 19, 2023: Actor Mark Ruffalo criticizes Musk’s attacks on CCDH, defending our work. He asks people to donate to us to “combat real evil & real rats.”
Screenshot of tweet by our CEO Imran Ahmed in response to Elon Musk's attacks on Twitter
  • July 20, 2023: Elon Musk’s X. Corp sends us a letter threatening legal action against CCDH. The threat is based on a baseless legal theory, and it’s a clear attempt to silence our efforts to expose his failures in stopping the spread of hate and lies on Twitter. Musk also instructs his staff to demand a meeting with the chair of CCDH’s board.
  • July 31, 2023: CCDH, represented by Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, sends our response to Musk’s brazen attempt to silence honest criticism and independent research. CCDH’s representation calls the threats “ridiculous” and a “disturbing effort to intimidate those who have the courage to advocate against incitement, hate speech and harmful content online.”
Elon Musk’s lawyers are threatening the Center for Countering Digital Hate with legal action for exposing Twitter’s failure to tackle hate speech. The image shows both the letter from Musk's lawyers and CCDH’s response.
  • August 1, 2023: Elon Musk’s X Corp files a lawsuit against CCDH. Our CEO Imran Ahmed replies that CCDH won’t be silenced and won’t stop doing its independent research. We start our legal battle against the richest man in the world. The following week, we receive a wave of support from organizations and individuals, including donations from supporters.
  • August 9, 2023: Over 60 leading civil society organizations and experts sign an open letter to stand against Elon Musk’s efforts to silence independent researchers. You can also add your name to stand against Musk’s attacks on independent criticism.
  • September 13, 2023: CCDH shows that 86% of 300 posts containing racism, antisemitism, and neo-Nazism were still live a week after our researchers reported them to Twitter/X. All these posts were in clear violation of the company’s policies against hateful conduct.
  • October 11, 2023: The European Commission issued a warning and made a legally binding request for information from Musk’s X over its handling of hate speech, misinformation, and violent terrorist content amid the Israel-Gaza conflict.
  • November 14, 2023: Our new report shows that Twitter/X kept hosting 98% of the 200 posts containing antisemitism, anti-Muslim, and anti-Palestinian hate a week after we reported them. Twitter/X is failing to act on hateful content that can lead to real-world violence amid the Israel-Gaza conflict.
  • November 16, 2023: Led by Robberta Kaplan and her team, CCDH files a motion to dismiss Musk’s X Corp’s baseless lawsuit against us. His lawsuit is a clear case of Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP) aimed to burden us with heavy legal costs and scare us away from doing research on X.
  • December 19, 2023: Leading civil rights groups and legal scholars submit amicus briefs in support of CCDH’s motion to dismiss X Corp’s lawsuit under California’s SLAPP law. The briefs were submitted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Knight First Amendment Institute, and the Public Participation Project.
  • February 29, 2024: CCDH CEO Imran Ahmed, represented by Roberta Kaplan and her team, stands up for the freedom of independent researchers everywhere and goes to court to fight back against Elon Musk’s attempt to silence us.

Our legal battle against Elon Musk will take a long time, and will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend – but we won’t back down. It’s vital we do not send a signal to billionaires and huge corporations that they can use strategic litigation to silence independent researchers who seek to protect the public.

We stand by our research and will work with our lawyers to defeat each and every bogus claim raised by Elon Musk, an entitled billionaire who thinks he can bully his critics into silence. Independent research is more necessary than ever to hold social companies accountable. 

You can join our fight against Elon Musk’s attacks on independent researchers by donating to help us kickstart our legal defence and continue our crucial work.