DUBAI: On Nov. 4, just over a week after he completed his takeover of Twitter, billionaire Elon Musk Tweeted that the platform had “seen hateful speech at times this week decline *below* our prior norms, contrary to what you may read in the press.”
However, newly published data from several organizations suggests otherwise.
In the first 12 days following the takeover, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue tracked 450 newly created Twitter accounts linked to Daesh, a 69 percent increase compared with the previous 12 days.
Meanwhile, the Center for Countering Digital Hate said that in the week beginning Oct. 31, the first full week the platform was under the ownership of Musk, one particular racial slur appeared in tweets and retweets 26,228 times, triple the 2022 average for that slur. A derogatory term used to attack another group was mentioned in 33,926 tweets and retweets, a 53 percent increase on the 2022 average.
Musk’s takeover of Twitter has been controversial from the moment he announced it. It came as social media platforms had been under increasing scrutiny for some time over their policies on content moderation and efforts to combat hate speech.
Musk, however, describes himself as a “free speech absolutist” and said he wanted to change the way in which content is moderated on the platform. During a TED Talk in April, the same month he reached his agreement to buy Twitter, he talked about his plans for moderation and suggested he might make Twitter’s algorithm open source.
On Oct. 28, the day after his takeover was completed, he announced his plans to form “a content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints.”
On Nov. 4 he said: “Twitter’s strong commitment to content moderation remains absolutely unchanged.”
But CCDH’s analysis revealed that despite early claims by Musk and Twitter’s head of trust and safety at the time, Yoel Roth, that the platform had succeeded in reducing the number of times hate speech was seen on Twitter’s search and trending pages, the actual volume of hateful tweets on the platform increased.
Before Musk bought Twitter, for example, slurs against Black Americans appeared on the platform an average of 1,282 times a day. In the days after, the number increased to 3,876 times a day, The New York Times reported. Antisemitic posts increased by more than 61 percent in the two weeks following Musk’s arrival, it added.
A separate study by the Network Contagion Research Institute found an increase of nearly 500 percent in the use of a derogatory racial term for Black people in the 12 hours immediately following the shift of ownership to Musk.
Analysts note that an escalation in hate speech on Twitter is not only dangerous for users and society as a whole, but also represents a threat to the company itself. According to research and information center Media Matters for America, 50 of the platform’s top 100 advertisers have either announced they will no longer advertise on Twitter or have simply stopped.
Collectively, they accounted for nearly $2 billion in advertising revenue on the platform since 2020 and more than $750 million in 2022 alone.
Roth quit the company last month and later said: “I realized that even if I spent all day, every day trying to avert whatever the next disaster was, there were going to be the ones that got through.
Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America, said that Musk’s Twitter is a cacophony of dictatorship, egotism and blatant disregard for the advice of experts.
If it continues, he warned, “under Musk’s leadership, Twitter will become a fever swamp of dangerous conspiracy theories, partisan chicanery and operationalized harassment.”