Inside a hate speech watchdog’s defense against Elon Musk, GOP allies
Home/Technology / Inside a hate speech watchdog’s defense against Elon Musk, GOP allies
Inside a hate speech watchdog’s defense against Elon Musk, GOP allies

When the Biden White House attacked social media companies in July 2021 for allegedly fostering the spread of misinformation about coronavirus vaccines, it cited a report by an obscure nonprofit, the Center for Countering Digital Hate.

The organization, which studies hate speech and misinformation on social media, earned a new level of infamy last month when X owner Elon Musk sued the group, arguing that its researchers violated the terms of service of the site formerly known as Twitter in a “scare campaign to drive away advertisers.” Days later, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) announced he was probing the nonprofit, demanding it turn over documents related to its alleged role in a Biden administration-led “censorship regime.”

On Thursday, the CCDH responded with a full-throated defense of its research and communications with government officials, dismissing Jordan’s allegations as “confusion about the organization” in a letter.

Related documents, which were exclusively viewed by The Washington Post, show that the organization has worked with government officials from both parties, which the CCDH argues undermine accusations that it “colluded” with the Biden administration. One email on behalf of former secretary of state Mike Pompeo thanks the CCDH for participating in a conference on online antisemitism, asking for continued engagement on efforts to address the “broader range of hate speech that plagues the internet.”

Jordan’s committee demanded that the CCDH turn over details about any grants, contracts or funds from the U.S. government, suggesting a financial link the nonprofit says does not exist. The CCDH’s letter asserts that the organization is “funded entirely by private donors and has never received any grants, entered into any contracts, or received any donations from the United States Government.”

The CCDH lawyer wrote in a letter responding to Jordan’s request that the documents were intended to “set the record straight” amid intense scrutiny from the House Judiciary Committee, which Jordan chairs.

“Given the stated purpose of the letter and its requests for documents and information, we fear that the Committee may not have a clear understanding of CCDH’s mission or work,” wrote Andrew D. Herman, a litigator at Lawrence and Bundy representing the CCDH.

Jordan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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The probe underscores the growing pressure Jordan and House Republicans are placing on nonprofits, researchers and companies working to address online misinformation, an ecosystem that grew in prominence amid a proliferation of falsehoods about covid-19 and President Biden’s electoral victory in 2020. Jordan and other Republicans allege these efforts to limit online falsehoods amount to a vast conspiracy between social media companies and the Biden administration to silence conservative viewpoints online.

Republican officials including Jordan have scrutinized researchers and advocacy groups they say play a role in a broad conspiracy to censor conservative speech.

Jordan also has released internal communications from Meta, which he has dubbed “the Facebook Files,” citing the CCDH’s research. The emails, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, show that the White House discussed the CCDH’s coronavirus research with Facebook executives as it pressured the company to take a tougher line against vaccine falsehoods. Nadgey Louis-Charles, a House Judiciary spokesperson, recently told The Post that these emails expose the “extent to which the Biden White House used the work of the CCDH to try to censor speech.”

Jordan’s panels, including the Judiciary Committee and the subcommittee on the weaponization of the federal government, have homed in on institutions that have tangled with Musk, who has amplified allegations of censorship. Jordan has met with Musk since he took over the social network, and he has held hearings related to claims in the “Twitter Files,” screenshots of internal company documents that Musk argue expose “free speech suppression” on the social media platform during the 2020 election.

Jordan accused Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan of “harassing Twitter” at a recent hearing, as the agency probes whether the social network is in violation of its consent order. During the hearing, he pressed Khan on evidence cited in a Twitter lawsuit, filed the same day of the hearing, that seeks to terminate the FTC order.

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The CCDH emails viewed by The Post also shed new light on the nonprofit’s interactions with the company. A June email shows that CCDH CEO Imran Ahmed met with X CEO Linda Yaccarino in the weeks ahead of the company’s lawsuit. In the email, sent to one of Yaccarino’s staffers, Ahmed asks to set up a follow-up meeting during a July trip to California adding that he would “be happy to” listen to a presentation on Trust and Safety at the company.

Under fire from Musk and the GOP, nonprofit chief vows to forge ahead

The CCDH’s lawyer said in the letter that the meeting reflects the CCDH’s willingness to “communicate robustly and candidly with social media companies” and that it participates in meetings with tech executives “without fear or favor.” The nonprofit has also recently met with officials from Meta, according to its lawyer, suggesting its work is not uniquely focused on X.

Ahmed said in an interview that the CCDH was asked to “maintain secrecy about the contents of the meeting, and we have.”

Ahmed said that the X Corp. litigation tells him the organization is “on the right track” in its mission to combat hate online.

“It’s not chilling us, it’s encouraging us to double down,” Ahmed said.

Cristiano Lima contributed to this report.


This story has been updated to clarify that documents viewed by the Post were not shared with Rep. Jim Jordan.

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