Here’s proof that hate speech is more viral on Elon Musk’s Twitter

Here’s proof that hate speech is more viral on Elon Musk’s Twitter

Elon Musk reactivated Donald Trump’s Twitter account last weekend, reversing a ban imposed in January 2021 after his posts were seen as inciting violence in the US Capitol. Trump hasn’t started using his account again, but social media researchers have been warning for months that his return could spark a wave of division and disinformation on the platform. Even without his controversial presence, a new analysis of millions of tweets shows that hate speech has become more visible on Twitter under Musk’s leadership.

Researchers at Tufts University’s Digital Planet Group tracked hate speech on Twitter before and after Musk’s acquisition of the company in late October. To do this, they used a data stream provided by the platform known as a firehose — a feed of all public tweets, likes, retweets, and replies shared through the platform. The group has used the same approach in previous studies, including one examining toxicity on Twitter around the US midterm elections.

To examine how Musk’s ownership has transformed Twitter, the researchers screened tweets made between March 1 and March 13 for LGBTQ+, racist or anti-Semitic intent. Then they checked the language of those tweets in each of the three categories, trying to assess their true intent.

In the months leading up to Musk’s takeover, the researchers rated only one tweet from the three top 20 lists as actually hateful, in this case against Jews. The others either quoted someone else’s hateful remarks or used the relevant keywords in a non-hateful way.

In the weeks after Musk took over Twitter, the same analysis found that hateful tweets became much more prominent among the most popular tweets using potentially toxic language. For tweets containing words associated with anti-LGBTQ+ or anti-Semitic posts, seven of the top 20 posts in each category were now hateful. For popular tweets containing potentially racist language, one of the top 20 was categorized as hate speech.

“The toxicity of Twitter is what led Post-Musk to enter this building,” says Bhaskar Chakravorti, dean of global business at Tufts University’s Fletcher Business School and chair of Digital Planet, which conducted the analysis.

This data could contribute to the challenges Musk faces as he seeks to turn around the company he has been saddled with debt. Advertisers provide the bulk of Twitter’s revenue, but some have said in recent weeks they will reduce spending or pause until they learn more about changes to the platform’s content policies. “Advertisers cannot invest their money on platforms that do not have a comprehensive policy on hate speech and misinformation in place and consistently enforced,” said Lou Paskalis, a longtime advertising executive who previously served as president of MMA Global, a marketing trade group .

Tufts analysis doesn’t show whether the surge in hate speech is due to specific changes Musk made after he acquired Twitter for $44 million last month. Despite initially claiming that company policies would not change, he also laid off thousands of employees and contractors, reducing the resources Twitter could devote to monitoring content. In some countries where the platform is popular, like Brazil, activists and researchers tracking disinformation say there is no one left on Twitter to respond to their warnings and requests.

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