Self-proclaimed 'free speech absolutist' Elon Musk went after several nonprofit organizations last year for their speech criticizing X and calling out the company's lack of enforcement around hateful speech. One of those lawsuits was just tossed out by a federal judge with a blistering, 52-page order.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, the federal judge still on the bench in San Francisco who is the younger brother of retired Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, issued the ruling Monday excoriating Musk and X Corp for bringing the suit against the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) in the first place.

"Sometimes it is unclear what is driving a litigation,” Breyer writes in the opening of the order. "Other times, a complaint is so unabashedly and vociferously about one thing that there can be no mistaking that purpose."

That purpose, Breyer concludes, was "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."

The lawsuit dates back to last July, before some of the more high-profile incidents and dustups of the fall that sent advertisers fleeing from the X platform. (Musk has since claimed that most of those advertisers have returned.) The complaint alleged that CCDH had violated X's terms of service by "intentionally and unlawfully" scraping the platform's data to find examples of hate speech — which were then compiled into reports that pointed out how X's content policies under Musk had allowed such hate speech to proliferate.

The lawsuit said that CCDH's reports had caused "serious financial harm" to the company, and amounted to "efforts to silence users it disagrees with on topics of public debate."

In his order, as Reuters notes, Judge Breyer writes, "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."

And Breyer agrees with attorneys for CCDH, who argue that they should be protected by California's law against strategic lawsuits against public participation aka SLAPP — with the angle about data scraping being seen as a ruse for chilling speech. Breyer refers to the SLAPP law and says that the claiming about data collection amount to "artifices of pleading," which the law guards against.

"If CCDH’s publications were defamatory, that would be one thing, but X Corp has carefully avoided saying that they are," Breyer writes.

Breyer further denied X Corp the ability to amend its complaint further, saying that their request for an amendment "has a dilatory motive — forcing CCDH to spend more time and money defending itself before it can hope to get out from under this potentially ruinous litigation."

CCDH CEO Imran Ahmed issued a statement Monday saying, "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."

There is, ostensibly, another similar lawsuit pending against Media Matters — you may recall Musk's threat to file a "thermonuclear lawsuit" against that organization in November. Media Matters published a separate report that Musk did not like that showed hate speech alongside ads being run on the platform by major advertisers — images that the suit said were "manufactured" and "contrived."

Musk has contended that while people may be spouting hate speech on X, the algorithms currently make it such that very few people will see it, let alone see ads running alongside it.

Separately, X Corp tried to sue the state of California last year over its content moderation law — which basically states that social media companies have to publish what their content moderation policies are. That lawsuit was tossed out by a judge in December.

Musk also threatened to sue the Anti-Defamation League last fall, saying, perhaps jokingly, that he wanted to sue them "for defamation." He made allegations that the antisemitism-focused anti-hate group had orchestrated an advertiser boycott of X, but the ADL denied this, saying that they themselves had been buying ads on X when these allegations started to be made.

In October, the ADL said it was resuming buying ads on X "to bring our important message on fighting hate to X and its users."

Previously: Musk's X Sues Media Matters Over Article Regarding Hate Speech and Ads

Top image:Top image: NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 29: Elon Musk wears a necklace in honor of Israeli hostages onstage during The New York Times Dealbook Summit 2023 at Jazz at Lincoln Center on November 29, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for The New York Times)