After months of contention between Elon Musk and Twitter executives over his offer to own the company, the Tesla founder was officially given the check on Friday. But when the new leader emerged at the helm, the platform saw a huge rise in hate speech, according to a new study.
Researchers at Montclair State University found that the 12 hours immediately following the ascent to Musk’s property saw a much more “hostile” environment on Twitter. The team examined tweets full of “vulgar and hostile” rhetoric aimed at people based on their race, religion, ethnicity and orientation, such as “n-word”, “k-word” and “f-word”, to find out how bad it went.
And what they found was an “immediate, visible and measurable peak”.
In the week leading up to Musk’s acquisition, researchers said there were no more than 84 hostile tweets per hour on the platform. But from midnight on October 28 – the day Musk took ownership – to noon the next day, there have been 4,778 hate-filled tweets. This represents more than 398 tweets per hour, about 4.7 times higher than the seven-day average prior to that day. The potential reach of those tweets was over 3 million, the researchers found.
The researchers also said there was an increase in negative sentiment, with more than 67% of tweets sent after Musk’s acquisition in a negative tone.
“In summary, the content and tone of Twitter posts became noticeably more hate speech oriented the day Elon Musk became CEO of the company with significant reach achieved for this hate content,” says Lo study.
Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of security and protection, also confirmed an increase in hate speech. On Monday, he tweeted that the company has seen an “increase in hateful conduct” and has removed more than 1,500 accounts. A graph he shared on the total impression of the tweets with at least one insult shows that the increase began Friday very shortly after the announcement of the acquisition of Musk. It seemed to increase between Saturday and Sunday.
Roth described the surge as a “short-term trolling campaign” with many of the accounts they removed stemming from repeated “bad actors”. On Saturday, he stated as an example that more than 50,000 tweets using a particular insult were issued by only 300 accountsmost of which were “inauthentic”.
“These problems are not new and the people targeted by hateful behavior are not numbers or data points. We will continue to invest in policies and technology to make things better,” he tweeted.
While the Montclair researchers made it clear that the takeover saw an immediate increase in hostile language on the platform, what remains obscure is what specifically caused it. Musk has long argued that this Twitter ownership would result in fewer restrictions, but the researchers said it was “speculative” to know whether his potential policy changes would cause the spike.
It is possible, however, that based on his past feelings, users resorted to language because they assumed they would no longer be banned or suspended from the platform. It’s also possible that having an “unmoderated platform was potentially a source of excitement,” the researchers said.
Musk did not explicitly say what will be tolerated on the platform since the start of the surge, although he did retweet Roth’s statements about the surge. On Friday, Musk said Twitter will form a “content moderation council with widely differing views” and that no major content decisions will be made before the council can meet.
“Twitter will not allow anyone who has been removed from the platform for violating Twitter’s rules on the platform until we have a clear process for doing so, which will take at least a few more weeks,” Musk said Tuesday evening. “Twitter’s content moderation council will include representatives with widely diverging views, which will surely include the civil rights community and groups dealing with hate-fueled violence.”
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