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The New York Times
The New York Times
Sheera Frenkel and Kate Conger

Hate Speech’s Rise on Twitter Is Unprecedented, Researchers Find

SAN FRANCISCO — Before Elon Musk bought Twitter, slurs against Black Americans showed up on the social media service an average of 1,282 times a day. After the billionaire became Twitter’s owner, they jumped to 3,876 times a day.

Slurs against gay men appeared on Twitter 2,506 times a day on average before Musk took over. Afterward, their use rose to 3,964 times a day.

And antisemitic posts referring to Jews or Judaism soared more than 61% in the two weeks after Musk acquired the site.

These findings — from the Center for Countering Digital Hate, the Anti-Defamation League and other groups that study online platforms — provide the most comprehensive picture to date of how conversations on Twitter have changed since Musk completed his $44 billion deal for the company in late October.

The shift in speech is just the tip of a set of changes on the service under Musk. Accounts that Twitter used to regularly remove — such as those that identify as part of the Islamic State group, which were banned after the U.S. government classified it as a terror group — have come roaring back. Accounts associated with QAnon, a vast far-right conspiracy theory, have paid for and received verified status on Twitter, giving them a sheen of legitimacy.

These changes are alarming, researchers said, adding that they had never seen such a sharp increase in hate speech, problematic content and formerly banned accounts in such a short period on a mainstream social media platform.

Musk, who did not respond to a request for comment, has been vocal about being a “free speech absolutist” who believes in unfettered discussions online. He has moved swiftly to overhaul Twitter’s practices, allowing former President Donald Trump to return. Last week, Musk proposed a widespread amnesty for accounts Twitter’s previous leadership had suspended. And Tuesday, he ended enforcement of a policy against COVID misinformation.

But Musk has denied claims that hate speech has increased on Twitter under his watch.

On Thursday, Musk said that the account of Kanye West, which was restricted for a spell in October because of an antisemitic tweet, would be suspended indefinitely after the rapper, known as Ye, tweeted an image of a swastika inside the Star of David.

Advertisers, which provide about 90% of Twitter’s revenue, have reduced their spending on the platform as they wait to see how it will fare under Musk.

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