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Democrats press Musk on ‘hostile stance’ toward independent research

TechnologyDemocrats press Musk on 'hostile stance' toward independent research


Twitter unveils X logo to replace Larry the bird.

Rafael Henrique | Lightrocket | Getty Images

Three Democratic lawmakers are pressing Elon Musk on his social media platform’s “hostile stance” toward independent research efforts after X, formerly known as Twitter, sued a nonprofit research group that found an increase in hate speech after the billionaire’s takeover.

“Independent research is critical to understanding the proliferation of hate speech and extremism online, and it has raised legitimate and serious questions regarding X’s business practices since Mr. Musk’s acquisition,” wrote Reps. Lori Trahan, D-Mass., Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Sean Casten, D-Ill., in a letter addressed to Musk and X Corp. CEO Linda Yaccarino on Tuesday and shared exclusively with CNBC.

The lawmakers pointed to X’s recent lawsuit against the Center for Countering Digital Hate, after the nonprofit found an increase in hate speech on the platform in the wake of Musk’s takeover. X said that the group didn’t legally obtain the data and used it to “falsely claim it had statistical support showing the platform is overwhelmed with harmful content.”

By filing the lawsuit against the CCDH, the lawmakers wrote, “X is uniquely resisting” researchers’ efforts to hold social media platforms accountable and conduct assessments in the public interest.

The lawmakers reiterated a series of questions first sent to the company in March, after it decided to restrict free access to researchers to its application programming interface, which allows different software applications to communicate. Researchers rely on such APIs to collect data for their work.

The company had yet to respond to the March letter, according to the lawmakers. This time, they asked for a response by Aug. 15.

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In the earlier set of questions, the lawmakers had asked X to “commit to ending the practice of retaliating against journalists and researchers that publish negative reports” about the platform. This time, they added a question about whether X had successfully reduced hate speech and extremist content on its platform and if that had been verified by any third parties.

X said in a statement to CNBC that CCDH has been pushing misleading information about the company that hinders public discussion. The company added that values of platform safety and free expression are not in conflict with one another.

In a blog post Monday announcing the suit, X explained that another company, Brandwatch, had informed it that CCDH had accessed X’s data without Brandwatch’s approval. Research cited in a Bloomberg article containing CCDH findings based on Brandwatch’s analysis tool included metrics that were taken out of context, Brandwatch said. X also alleged that CCDH had scraped its platform, in violation of its terms of service.

CCDH founder and CEO Imran Ahmed called the lawsuit “straight out of the authoritarian playbook,” and said, “Musk is trying to ‘shoot the messenger’ who highlights the toxic content on his platform rather than deal with the toxic environment he’s created.”

Read the full letter here:

Billionaire Elon Musk steps into Twitter HQ, sink in hand


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