Hate speech and misinformation have skyrocketed post-Twitter acquisition, mostly from trolls and right-wing extremists who appear to be testing the limits of Musk’s tolerance for free speech.
Research by Montclair State University analyzed the extent of antisemitic, racial hate-driven, and homophobic phrases, and the result was a visible, immediate, measurable spike.
According to researchers, in the week before Musk’s acquisition, there were fewer than 84 hate tweets per hour on the network. However, there were 4,778 hate-filled tweets between midnight on October 28 – the day Musk obtained ownership – and noon the next day.
Hate speech is an increasing problem on various social media platforms
This equals more than 398 tweets per hour, approximately 4.7 times greater than the seven-day average before that day. Researchers also discovered that the tweets had a viewer base of almost 3 million. Despite Musk’s stated intentions, it is unclear what Twitter will be like under his leadership, according to the Montclair State analysis. “What is not speculative, however, is the extent to which his date of formal acquisition was celebrated by racist and extremist users on the platform”, the Montclair State report reads.
According to a similar study conducted by the cyber research group Network Contagion Research Institute, the usage of the N-word word increased by more than 500% on the platform on October 28. The tweets using racial epithets, antisemitic terminology, and aggressive LGBTQ criticism also increased. Similarly, there has been an increase in transphobic and misogynistic language.
Although Montclair researchers pointed out that the acquisition caused an instant surge in verbal aggression on the platform, the exact cause is still unclear. Musk has long stated that his ownership of Twitter will come with fewer limitations, but experts say it’s “speculative” to know if his proposed policy changes would have caused the surge.
According to ABC News, Musk has often criticized Twitter for being rigid and oppressive and has advocated for more free speech on the platform. Following the announcement of the Twitter deal, Musk stated that:
Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.Elon Musk
However, based on his previous opinions, users may have resorted to the language since they felt they would be banned or suspended from the site. Another possibility, according to experts, is that having an “unmoderated platform was possibly a source of excitement.” Despite reaching for more free speech on Twitter, Musk mentioned in a tweet that the platform couldn’t be a “free-for-all,” according to Fortune.
The New Twitter Policy
Days after promising to regain the “trust of the people,” Elon Musk tweeted that there has been a one-third decrease in the number of impressions of hate speech on Twitter since the pre-spike. Commending the Twitter workforce, the social media giant’s new owner tweeted a picture displaying a decrease in hate speech on the platform.
According to Musk, the decrease in hate speech is due to Twitter’s limit on the number of tweets users can post each day and hour. Users are limited to 2,400 tweets each day and a maximum of 100 per hour.
Freedom of speech doesn’t necessarily mean freedom from consequence
He declared that hateful or nasty tweets will be “demonetized or deboosted,” calling it “freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach.” With this, users won’t see the negative tweets until they particularly search for them. Like everywhere on the internet, it would only be accessible through a user’s search using the right keywords.
He added that this only pertains to one specific tweet, not the entire account. Musk has also reactivated several controversial profiles that had previously been suspended or blocked, including Donald Trump and Kanye West, whose profiles had both been blocked for hate speech.