August 3, 2023 - 5:00pm

On 1 August, X Corp filed a lawsuit in US federal court against the UK-based Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH). The company accused the organisation of illegally accessing its data, and producing reports falsely charging that Elon Musk’s acquisition of the social network precipitated an explosion of hate speech, in order to damage the platform’s advertising revenue.

While perhaps not a household name, CCDH is by some margin one of the most impactful operators within the Censorship Industrial Complex. In recent years, the Center has campaigned for numerous figures on the Left and Right to be banned by social networks, directly advised tech firms and government agencies on Covid-19 and climate change, influenced the composition of London’s highly controversial Online Safety Act, and more. 

The Center has been heavily focused on Twitter since Musk’s acquisition last October, which resulted in permanent suspensions of many individuals and organisations previously targeted by CCDH being undone. In 2023 alone, the organisation has produced a panoply of “news” items on the social network, and three dedicated “disinformation” reports.

Its most recent claim alleged that X Corp “fails to act on 99% of Twitter Blue accounts tweeting hate,” with these users permitted to break platform rules with impunity. Commenting, the Center’s founder-and-chief Imran Ahmed went so far as to charge that Musk was personally and deliberately undermining “decades of progress” on the “human rights” of ethnic minorities, Jews, Muslims and the LGBTQ+ community, “at an ever-accelerating rate”, with “the tacit approval” of his site’s advertisers.

How such incendiary conclusions were drawn from CCDH’s findings isn’t certain. The Center appears to have simply reported 100 hateful tweets chosen at random by its in-house “expert” team for allegedly breaching platform rules. If the tweet in question wasn’t removed within four days, X was judged to have failed, and consciously permitted hate speech to remain extant.

The report is just the latest component of a dedicated CCDH campaign to damage X’s revenues. Dubbed #StopToxicTwitter, a section of the Center’s website demands “big brands” — including Amazon and Apple — “step up
stop bankrolling the spread of hate and disinformation
[and] remove your ads from the platform now.” Since Musk’s takeover of Twitter, the social network’s advertising income is reportedly down 50%, and its value has fallen considerably according to major investment firms.

The CCDH has been on similar crusades, resulting in absolutely devastating effects on affected targets. In March 2019, an anonymous internet campaign dubbed Stop Funding Fake News (SFFN) was launched to demonetise a variety of political websites on the Right and Left, by directly lobbying companies to remove their advertisements.

Within six months, SFFN succeeded in shutting down Westmonster, a pro-Brexit site founded by Aaron Banks, while damaging the takings of Corbynite media outlet The Canary to such an extent, it was forced to make job cuts. The latter was also investigated by press regulator IMPRESS, due to SFFN alleging it published anti-Semitic content. The probe ultimately found no evidence whatsoever to substantiate that charge. 

In May 2020, SFFN was revealed to be a CCDH asset. By that time, Imran Ahmed had begun personally advising the UK government on “conspiracist ‘news’ sites”. Given the Center once counted opposition leader Keir Starmer’s chief-of-staff Morgan McSweeney among its directors, and shares an address with “party in a party” Labour Together, Ahmed could well expect an even more influential post after the next general election.

CCDH’s relentless quest to financially starve targets it arbitrarily accuses of peddling “disinformation” and/or “harmful content” is all the more egregious, given the sources and size of its own budget are wholly opaque. The organisation is reportedly funded by “philanthropic trusts and members of the public,” per a vanishingly brief blurb on the Center’s website.

It should also be noted that CCDH’s “backers” are also targets of X Corp’s legal challenge. While their identities are not revealed, the company’s lawyers state they “have reason to believe” the Center — and “its campaign to drive advertisers off Twitter by smearing the company and its owner” — is bankrolled by X Corp’s “commercial competitors, as well as government entities and their affiliates.” 

One can only hope those details are released publicly, and further illuminate the murky relationship between major tech firms, state organs, and supposedly independent “disinformation” experts, which underpin the Censorship Industrial Complex. How this toxic triumvirate secretly conspires was first exposed by the Twitter Files. Musk’s sponsorship of those disclosures made him a marked man. Evidently though, X Corp isn’t going down without a fight.

Kit Klarenberg is an investigative journalist.