As concerns around hate speech and offensive content continue to swirl on Twitter, many are questioning whether Elon Musk’s takeover of the platform has led to a relaxation of regulations around such issues. Musk, a staunch advocate for allowing all forms of speech, has overseen the reinstatement of tens of thousands of accounts previously banned by Twitter management, and has removed restrictions designed to curb COVID misinformation. Additionally, he has canceled warning labels on Chinese and Russian state media content and promoted various conspiracy theories to his 134 million followers.

These changes have reportedly caused many Twitter advertisers to shun the app due to concerns around potential association with hate speech and offensive material. But is hate speech actually on the rise on Twitter 2.0, or is it, as Musk and his team claim, actually reducing due to updated processes for detecting and limiting such content in the app?

This issue was a key point of contention in Musk’s recent interview with the BBC, which he broadcast live via Twitter Spaces. While the almost two-hour-long interview didn’t provide any new insights, Musk did discuss his rushed layoffs at the app and the need to cut costs to save the company. He also claimed that his dog is now the CEO of Twitter and said that Twitter could possibly break even within months.

But hate speech and its impact on advertisers were clear sore points, with Musk sharing an exchange that highlighted what he perceives as media bias around this issue. However, one user’s personal experience is not indicative of the scope of the potential problem, if there is one. Musk and his team claim that hate speech is actually way down since he took over at the app. But following the reinstatement of so many previously banned accounts, many of which were shut down due to violating the platform’s hate speech rules, it seems like this element can’t have reduced. So how are Musk and Co. coming up with these statistics, and what are the studies being referred to by the BBC in relation to the rise in hateful content?

External research, which reportedly shows that hate speech has increased, was referred to in the BBC interview. The Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) released a study last month, which it says shows that the volume of antisemitic tweets more than doubled in the three-month period after Musk’s takeover of the app. That’s quite a different chart from the one that Twitter has shared, so what’s the variance here, and why is ISD’s data showing a sustained rise where Twitter’s own numbers reflect a fall?

In some ways, you could say that the biggest spike in this chart reflects the same incident that Twitter’s data points to, which it claims is an increase in bot attacks designed to discredit Musk’s leadership by amplifying slurs on the app. According to ISD’s report: “We also identified a surge in the creation of new accounts posting hate speech which correlated with Musk’s takeover. In total, 3,855 accounts which posted at least one antisemitic Tweet were created between October 27 and November 6. This represents more than triple the rate of potentially hateful account creation for the equivalent period prior to the takeover.”

This likely aligns with Twitter’s detection of bots, while ISD also notes that Twitter is now removing more content: “The proportion of antisemitic content removed by Twitter appears to have increased in the period since the takeover, with 12% of antisemitic tweets subsequently unavailable for collection, compared to 6% before the takeover. However, this potential increase in removal rate has not kept pace with the increase in overall antisemitic content, with the result that hate speech remains more accessible on the platform than before Musk’s acquisition.”

ISD’s findings also correlate with similar data from The Center for Countering Digital Hate, which found that slurs against Black and transgender people significantly jumped after Musk’s takeover of Twitter.

“The average number of likes, replies, and retweets on posts with slurs was 13.3 in the weeks leading up to Musk’s Twitter 2.0. Since the takeover, average engagements on hateful content has jumped to 49.5, according to the report.”

Twitter claims that its tracking process factors in this consideration, where others do not, and when the usage of any such terminology is used in a hateful way, Twitter takes action to either remove the tweet, or restrict its reach.

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