The use of hateful language on Twitter has increased dramatically since Elon Musk took over, according to new research.
Mr. Musk completed his $44 billion takeover of the social networking platform in late October, promptly firing about half of the company’s 8,000 employees.
Although the head of trust and security, Yoel Roth, said at the time that frontline moderation staff had suffered “the least impact”, last week – after stepping down – he he said Twitter was no longer secure under Musk.
The US-based Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) released a report on Friday examining the rise of hateful language on the platform.
Among its results:
• Daily use of the word “n****r” has tripled since the Mr. Musk takeover, compared to the average observed in 2022
• Daily use of “c***s” increased by 33% over the same time period
• Daily use of “f****t” increased by 58%
• Daily use of “tr***y” increased by 62%
The news comes just days after Mr. Musk tweeted his congratulations to the team on Twitter, saying “hate speech impressions” were “down by a third from pre-peak levels”.
He also said on Nov. 18 that Twitter’s new policy was “freedom of speech, but not freedom of scope,” adding, “Negative/hate tweets will be maximized and demonetized, so no advertising or other revenue for Twitter.
“You won’t find the tweet unless you specifically search for it, which is no different than the rest of the internet.”
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But the CCDH report found that average engagement with insulting tweets also increased.
In the two weeks prior to the Musk acquisition, the average number of replies, retweets, and likes for tweets that used “n****r”, “tr***y”, or “f****t” was 13.3 but after the acquisition, it jumped to 49.5, an increase of 272%.
As a case study, the research looked at anti-LGBTQ+ tweets following the Colorado Springs shooting, in which five people were killed at an LGBTQ nightclub on Nov. 19.
They focused on the obnoxious “baiting” rhetoric, which they say has been tweeted tens of millions of times since the shooting.
In the three months before Mr. Musk took over Twitter, the 10 accounts most responsible for that rhetoric collectively gained 222,709 followers per month, taken as an average over the three months.
In the month following the Musk takeover, they gained a total of 944,205 followers, an increase of more than 320%.
This isn’t the first time concerns have been raised about how Musk’s leadership is changing Twitter.
The rollback of the platform’s COVID misinformation policy should give more freedom to anti-vaxxers, while his announcement of a ‘general amnesty’ will allow return of those who were previously banned for violating Twitter rules.
Among them are white supremacists, misogynists and far-right conspiracy theorists.
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On Friday, Mr. Musk appeared to be addressing the CCDH report when he tweeted: “Hate speech impressions – the number of times a tweet has been viewed – continues to decline, despite significant user growth.”
He promised the data would be released weekly, adding: “Freedom of speech does not mean freedom of access.
“Negativity should and will have less reach than positivity.
“There are about 500 million tweets a day and billions of impressions, so hate speech impressions are less than 0.1% of what you see on Twitter.”