Twitter roils with hate speech as trolls test Musk’s self-described free speech absolutism

By | October 29, 2022

Bloomberg reports:

In the wake of Elon Musk buying Twitter Inc., a tide of slurs and racist memes swelled on the platform, sparking concern that the site is entering an era of hateful speech.

Twitter has long wrestled with how to enforce content policies fairly on its platform in order to appease the advertisers, users and powerful world leaders that use its service. But as Musk, a self-styled “free speech absolutist,” took over ownership of the company, some conservative officials, partisan extremists and conspiracy peddlers saw reason to celebrate the change.

“It seems like this is a group of people who think the rules magically changed as soon as he signed on the dotted line,” said Katie Harbath, the chief executive officer and founder of Anchor Change and former public policy director at Facebook.

Dr. Rebekah Tromble, director of the Institute for Data, Democracy, and Politics at George Washington University, said as soon as Musk took control of Twitter, online trolls began encouraging each other to push the boundaries on Twitter.

“Unfortunately, this spike in hateful language is entirely predictable,” said Tromble, who has studied Twitter for years. “For most of these trolls, it’s a game. But for others, including certain political influencers, saying hateful, outlandish things helps them increase their audience and make money. And they see this as a golden opportunity to gain even more attention.”

The flood of speech underlines the difficulty Musk faces in fulfilling his promise to restore people’s ability to speak freely while managing the palatability of the platform for advertisers, to whom he pledged in a letter Thursday that Twitter would not spiral into a “free-for-all hellscape” under his leadership. Musk has repeatedly opposed Twitter’s enforcement strategies, such as banning some high-profile accounts permanently.

Musk tweeted that Twitter will form a content-moderation council that includes “widely diverse viewpoints.” Major decisions on content and account reinstatement are on hold until the group is convened, he said. A Twitter spokesperson added that the company has a hateful conduct policy and it had not made any changes to the Twitter Rules.

Though Musk has already fired four Twitter executives, including Vijaya Gadde, the company’s head of legal, policy and trust, who headed up a team that made decisions on permanently banning certain high-profile accounts, he has yet to make any concrete or substantial changes to Twitter’s moderation policies. Still, on Friday, some conservative politicians and pundits saw the platform coming into his ownership as a symbolic win.

“FREEDOM OF SPEECH!!!!” posted Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia, from her official Twitter account on Thursday evening, minutes after news of Musk’s acquisition of Twitter broke. Greene’s personal account was permanently banned by Twitter earlier this year for repeated violations of its Covid-19 misinformation policies. “Just wait until tomorrow,” she said in another tweet one minute later.

On Friday, Greene tweeted, simply: “We are winning.” The congresswoman gained at least 40,492 new followers in the hours since Musk took over Twitter, according to a Bloomberg analysis.

Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican of Ohio, also cheered Musk’s takeover of Twitter with a post on Friday morning: “Free speech. Liberal tears.” He gained at least 40,419 followers in the same timeframe, according to Bloomberg’s analysis. [Continue reading…]

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