Press Releases

Trahan, Casten, Schiff Demand Answers from “X” on Social Media Watchdog Intimidation

WASHINGTON, DC – Yesterday, Representatives Lori Trahan (MA-03)Sean Casten (IL-06), and Adam Schiff (CA-28) sent a letter to X Corp., formerly known as Twitter, leaders Elon Musk and Linda Yaccarino demanding answers on the company’s efforts to threaten and intimidate independent research organizations that study harms on social media. The letter cites an X Corp. lawsuit against the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), an independent organization that found an increase in hate speech and misinformation on the platform since Musk’s acquisition last year.

“We write to express our deep concerns about the proliferation of hate, harassment, and extremism on X and the company’s series of troubling decisions that appear calculated to harass, silence, and suppress research and accountability into this issue,” the lawmakers wrote. “Independent researchers and advocates, including those at the Center for Countering Digital Hate, regularly study trends of potentially harmful behavior on social media platforms and post articles detailing their findings. This is true of X as well as of its competitors, including Meta, Google, TikTok, and others. However, under your leadership, X is taking a hostile stance toward those efforts, further contributing to existing concerns about X’s abilities to effectively address the harms that exist on your platform.”

In June, CCDH published a report detailing Twitter’s failure to act on 99 percent of hateful content, including tweets containing racist, homophobic, neo-Nazi, antisemitic, and conspiratorial statements, posted by Twitter Blue subscribers. X Corp. responded to the report, which follows a number of other research documents released by the organization on harms that exist on Twitter and many of its competitors in the social media space, by announcing that it had filed a federal lawsuit against CCDH for “actively working to prevent free expression.”

“After Mr. Musk purchased X on October 27, 2022, some of his first actions were to lay off trust and safety workers, dissolve the Trust and Safety Council, and restore banned accounts of misogynists and Neo-Nazis. Unsurprisingly, this has coincided with a documented rise in hate speech and extremism on X,” the lawmakers continued. “This has been documented by the CCDH, which found a 119% jump in anti-LGBTQ ‘grooming rhetoric’ on X, by U.S. research institutions, and even by the Australian government. 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.”

Since his acquisition of Twitter last year, Musk has repeatedly promised to provide users with a platform that prioritizes free speech while simultaneously implementing policies that choke off researcher access through Twitter’s API and retaliating against independent researchers, journalists, and organizations that have been critical of his company.

In November, Trahan and Casten wrote to Musk with questions about his plans for the future of Twitter’s transparency policies and researcher access program. A month later, a company representative told Trahan’s staff that the company had no immediate plans to change these programs and pledged that Twitter would not retaliate against researchers and journalists. Later that same day, Musk banned multiple journalists who cover Twitter.

Additionally, after Twitter announced plans in March to shutter free researcher access to its API and instead offer a paid access model that could cost researchers up to $210,000 per month, Trahan, Casten, and Schiff again wrote to Musk asking him to clarify this decision that contradicts his promise to make the platform more transparent. The company did not respond to the lawmakers’ request.

The letter sent yesterday demands that Twitter answer the questions posed by lawmakers in March, including:

  1. Why is Twitter changing the API access and pricing structure, in particular for the Academic Research API?
  2. Will researchers that are already approved for the Academic Research API be grandfathered into an equivalent level of access in the new APIs?
  3. Please list all differences, especially decreases, in the types of data and volume of data between the Academic Research API, new free API, new paid basic API, and the new enterprise API tiers.
  4. Do you plan on providing free or discounted API access for academic researchers after releasing your new API platform? If so, when would that API be released, what would the cost be, and how would it differ from existing APIs? If you have no plans for this, why not?
  5. Will you commit to not increasing the price of and not decreasing the level of access provided by your new API platform?
  6. What is the approval process for determining access to a modified free version of the API for Twitter account bots “providing good content”? Would bots that could objectively report negative information about Twitter be deemed as providers of “good content”?

It also requests an answer to an additional question:

  1. Has X successfully decreased the amount of content in violation of its terms of service on its platform, including hate speech and extremism?

                         i.        If so, have any independent third parties verified this claim, and what research have they generated in support of it?


A copy of the letter sent yesterday can be accessed HERE.