Is X really a bastion of free expression?

A new row between the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) and X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, sees both sides claiming to be working in the interest of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

In one corner, the CCDH claims that X is not moving quickly enough to tackle online hatred that finds a home on the social media platform. They claim to highlight examples where hatred goes unchallenged and then in turn encourage X’s advertisers to use their commercial clout to bring about change on the platform, including through the use of boycotts and removing their accounts.

In the other corner is X who refute all the claims made by CCDH but rather than engage with CCDH to disprove their claims are now suing CCDH, asserting they have violated X’s terms and conditions.

X has accused CCDH of trying to silence those they disagree with, CCDH claims X is trying to silence them through legal action because they are exposing X’s failures and X claims to be standing up for freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

But while this argument between CCDH and X is being dressed up as a battle for the principle of freedom of speech, I’m not completely convinced that this really is X’s position – rather it looks to me as if they are seeking to protect their own commercial position. However what is clear is that these two organisations have a very different view of what the digital universe should look like.

CCDH is not immune from having their own research criticised and robustly reviewed. This is the same threshold applied to any academic work that presents its findings as fact. And debate of research is a key element of freedom of expression.

Likewise, it would be churlish not to acknowledge that hate speech exists on X. Those who have followed my own experiences with social media will know I am no stranger to online hate and have often made clear that free speech does not excuse hate speech.

And while CCDH are now subject to a lawsuit, they retain their ability to speak about the failings of X and do so on X. However, the legal action could encourage them to step away,  deterring them from making further criticism of X.

Using the law to scare into silence those who you disagree with is a clear affront to freedom of speech and is something Index has campaigned against for decades.

If X wanted to be the bastion of freedom of expression they claim to aspire to be, then they should welcome their site being home to those who are critical of them.

The question is now for X and their leadership and it is simple. Can you really claim to be standing up for freedom of speech while taking action to silence dissent?  Do you want to champion freedom of speech or do you simply want to wield it as a tool to silence those you disagree with? You can’t do both.