Elon Musk’s lawyer sent a letter threatening to sue a hate speech research group in late July, accusing the organization of making “false and misleading claims” about Twitter in order to help the company’s competitors. Shortly after, Twitter unbanned Ye, the artist formerly known as Kanye West, whom Musk kicked off the platform for tweeting a swastika in December.
In the letter, Musk’s lawyer Alex Spiro wrote that the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) “made a series of troubling and baseless claims that appear calculated to harm Twitter generally, and its digital advertising business specifically.” Spiro wrote that Twitter, which recently changed its name to X, has “reason to believe” that the CCDH is “supported by funding from X Corp.’s commercial competitors, as well as government entities and their affiliates.”
Spiro’s letter doesn’t make any requests, but says that Twitter is prepared to take legal action. Spiro wrote that Twitter is investigating whether the CCDH violated section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, which prohibits false advertising. On July 18th, Musk called Ahmed a “rat” and described the organization as “truly evil” in a series of tweets.
“Elon Musk’s actions represent a brazen attempt to silence honest criticism and
independent research, in the desperate hope that he can stem the tide of negative stories and rebuild his relationship with advertisers,” said Imran Ahmed, CEO of the CCDH, in a statement. “Advertisers are fleeing his platform for one clear reason: Elon Musk has supported the proliferation of hate and racism on it, and he doesn’t care to stop it. Musk is targeting CCDH because we reveal the truth about the spread of hate and disinformation on Twitter under his ownership, and it’s impacting his bottom line.”
The CCDH is a nonprofit and says it doesn’t accept funding from tech companies, governments, or their affiliates. The organization regularly publishes research about hate speech problems on social media. Last December, the organization found that use of racial skyrocketed on Twitter the same week that Musk congratulated his team for its success fighting hate speech, for example. Spiro did not respond to a request for comment.
Musk treatment of Ye (formerly Kanye West) seems a perfect illustration of the CCDH’s arguments about Twitter’s attitude towards hate speech. Just before Musk’s takeover in October 2022, Twitter banned Ye for posting that he was “going death con [sic] 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE.” Musk later unbanned Ye as well as a long list of other promoters of hate speech, misinformation, and Nazism. Ye then spent the next month on a bizarre and racist media tour, which included wearing a White Lives Matter shirt and an interview where he praised Hitler and said “I also love Nazis.” Musk’s tolerance for Nazism apparently ran out on December 2nd after Ye tweeted a picture of a swastika embedded in a Star of David. At the time, Musk tweeted that Ye’s account was suspended.
That isn’t enough to earn yourself a permanent ban on Musk’s Twitter, though—or “X” as he would prefer that you call it—at least not if you’re a famous conservative. Over the weekend, Twitter welcomed Ye back once again. The company told the Wall Street Journal that Ye is not allowed to monetize his account, and advertisements will not appear next to his tweets.
Ye isn’t the only right-wing darling earning second and third chances from Elon Musk. Last week, Twitter banned Qanon conspiracy influencer Dom Lucre after he tweeted a picture depicting child sexual abuse so horrific that we won’t describe it here. The ban sparked outcry from conservative Twitter users, who are apparently more concerned about “censorship” than protecting children. Musk then intervened and unbanned Lucre’s account. The image did not reappear.
“For now, we will delete those posts and reinstate the account,” Musk tweeted. In reality, Twitter’s own metrics said Lucre’s post was retweeted more than 8,000 times and viewed by over 3 million people.
Lucre used his reinstated Twitter account to lie that he had never posted the image, falsely claiming he had only tweeted a link to a story which described the abuse. Musk—who has a penchant for calling his critics pedophiles—recently tweeted that his company has a zero tolerance policy for child sexual abuse material, and has repeatedly praised his own efforts to protect child safety on Twitter.
Musk often refers to himself as a “free speech absolutist.” That stance clearly extends to Nazis, peddlers of misinformation, and far right celebrities, but it doesn’t seem to apply to the billionaire’s critics. Elon Musk gleefully censors Twitter users on a regular basis, often inventing new rules to justify his actions. For example, he updated Twitter’s doxxing policies in order to ban an account that tweeted about his private jet, and then banned a number of journalists for writing about the incident.
In fact, censorship has skyrocketed during Musk’s tenure when it comes to government requests. Governments often ask social media companies to take down posts or accounts they don’t like. Before he took over, Twitter complied with about half of these requests. The numbers shot up under his leadership; these days, Elon’s Twitter cooperates with government censorship requests 80% of the time. To name one example, Twitter banned four accounts and took down 409 tweets at the request of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan just before the country’s most recent election.