LOS ANGELES (Advocate Channel) — Although Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, claimed it would not be a “hellscape” where users could post anything they’d like, LGBTQ+ human rights groups and advocates say it already is only days after Musk took the reins.
On Thursday, the world’s richest man completed his long-anticipated takeover of the social media platform. And with his acquisition, out goes content moderation, according to critics.
The billionaire claimed, however, he had yet to change Twitter’s content moderation.
“Twitter will be forming a content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints,” the billionaire tweeted. “No major content decisions or account reinstatements will happen before that council convenes.”
As seemingly one of his first acts, however, Musk eliminated some of the platform’s safeguards. For example, he fired Vijaya Gadde, the company’s head of legal policy, trust, and safety. Accounts have also been able to post tweets that include once-banned language.
A study by Montclair State University’s Joetta Di Bella and Fred C. Sautter III Center for Strategic Communication in the School of Communication measured the amount of hate speech that existed on Twitter in the hours following Musk’s acquisition. Researchers measured instances of hate terms like the n-word, k-word, and f-word slurs for Black, Jewish, and queer people.
Before Musk’s acquisition, average tweets using hate terms were at most 84 per hour over seven days. On October 28, after Musk took over, users tweeted the studied hate speech 4,778 times from midnight to noon, the study found.
Within hours of the sale’s completion, Chaya Raichick’s Libs of TikTok account blatantly tweeted a string of the anti-LGBTQ+ slur, “groomer,” which, before Thursday, would have earned the account a suspension.
The account wrote “groomer” 13 times.
Similarly, Jaimee Michell’s group Gays Against Groomers took to Twitter to test the waters of hate speech.
“OKAY GROOMER,” the account tweeted.
Former UFC fighter Jake Shields came out and admitted that he was posting a slur to see if Twitter would suspend him again for it.
“This is a groomer[.] I was suspended for this exact tweet a month ago so we will see if Twitter is now free,” he wrote.
As of publication time, the tweet remains up.
Alejandra Caraballo is a clinical instructor at the Harvard Law School’s Cyber Law Clinic and an expert in online extremism. Immediately after Musk acquired Twitter, she documented that right-wing extremists began tweeting hateful content with reckless abandon.
“We’re off to quite a start with groyper Nazi trolls feeling explicitly emboldened by Elon to threaten murder and use racist, anti Semitic, and homophobic slurs,” Caraballo wrote. “I’m sure the advertisers are going to love having their ads next to this.”
In an open letter, the nation’s top civil rights groups and advocacy groups, including GLAAD, demanded Musk be held accountable for his behavior on Twitter and demand civility on Twitter. The letter was sent to Amazon, Capital One, Best Buy, Apple, and 16 more of Twitter’s top 20 advertisers.
“We, the undersigned organizations, call on you to notify Musk and publicly commit that you will cease all advertising on Twitter globally if he follows through on his plans to undermine brand safety and community standards, including gutting content moderation,” the letter reads. “This means that Musk must not roll back the basic moderation practices Twitter already has on the books now and must commit to actually enforcing those rules.”
On Monday, Yoel Roth, Twitter’s current head of safety and integrity, indicated that the platform was aware of a spike in hate speech on Twitter.
Roth said that since Saturday, his team had sought to eliminate instances of slurs from the platform.
“We’ve made measurable progress, removing more than 1500 accounts and reducing impressions on this content to nearly zero,” he tweeted.
The suppression of impressions and removing the content from the platform, however, are separate things, which Roth admitted when challenged in a reply to his tweet. Twitter seeks to remove content and to reduce its visibility, he says.
“Impressions have been our success measure for a long time,” Roth tweeted.
Musk said shortly before 1 a.m. EDT on Wednesday that the content moderation council he had mentioned previously would include people with varying viewpoints, but it was unclear whether the board would include LGBTQ+ people.
“Twitter’s content moderation council will include representatives with widely divergent views, which will certainly include the civil rights community and groups who face hate-fueled violence,” he wrote.
During the weekend, the Tesla CEO spread a false and homophobic conspiracy theory that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul, was engaging in a tryst with a male sex worker and was hit in the head with a hammer during a quarrel.
Paul Pelosi was attacked by David DePape, a 42-year-old far-right extremist who admitted to police that he broke into the Pelosi home to target the Speaker for political reasons.
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