Twitter Says Increase in Slurs Following Elon Musk Takeover Is a “Trolling Campaign”

Twitter Says Increase in Slurs Following Elon Musk Takeover Is a “Trolling Campaign”

Twitter’s head of safety and integrity says the platform is facing a “trolling campaign” of racist abuse after a report found that the use of the N-word jumped on the social media site less than a day after Elon Musk’s takeover.

In a thread Saturday, Twitter’s Yoel Roth explained that the platform’s policies around hateful conduct on the platform have not shifted since Musk officially took over Friday despite reports of increasing use of slurs and targeted harassment. “Hateful conduct has no place here. And we’re taking steps to put a stop to an organized effort to make people think we have,” Twitter’s head of safety and integrity tweeted.

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While Roth confirmed that in the last two days Twitter has seen an uptick in hateful conduct from users, he attributed what’s happening to “a small number of accounts” that have posted “a ton of Tweets that include slurs and other derogatory terms.” Offering up an example, he wrote that “more than 50,000 Tweets repeatedly” using a specific slur “came from just 300 accounts.” He did not clarify what the slur was.

One report, from the Network Contagion Research Institute — a group dedicated to monitoring and reporting on the “spread of hostile ideological content” — found that use of the N-word on the app spiked within 12 hours of Musk’s deal being finalized. “Evidence suggests that bad actors are trying to test the limits on Twitter,” the organization tweeted. It acknowledged that posts on platforms outside of Twitter, like 4chan, were driving this attempt to “amplify derogatory slurs.”

Roth described “nearly all” of the 300 accounts the company identified as using the slurs as “inauthentic” before stating the platform has already taken action to ban those accounts and users involved in the “trolling campaign” and will continue to do so.

In his statement, he also clarified that while the platform’s rules “prohibit Hateful Conduct” like targeting users with dehumanizing content, that policy does not mean the social media company has “a list of words that are always banned.”

“Context matters,” he added. “For example, our policies are written to protect reclaimed speech.”

The statement from Roth comes after Musk fired top executives Friday and, in his own statement, claimed that “no major content decisions or account reinstatements will happen” before he convenes a proposed content moderation council made up of people from “widely diverse viewpoints.” (Twitter already has a trust and safety council, formed in 2016 and comprising independent expert organizations that serve on advisory groups for topics including online safety and harassment.)

But questions about Twitter’s safety, including its responses to hateful conduct and the potential reinstatement of previously banned accounts, have fueled users to leave the platform, including several members of the entertainment industry. Among them have been Shonda Rhimes, This Is Us executive producer Ken Olin and Bill & Ted star and doc director Alex Winter.

Those departures and questions follow months of evolving statements from Musk about his approach to free speech on the platform. During an April interview, he said that for him on the platform, it was “really important that people have the reality and the perception that they are able to speak freely within the bounds of the law.” He later said that Twitter’s banning of Donald Trump, a decision it made based on “the risk of further incitement of violence” following the Jan. 6 insurrection, was “morally wrong and flat-out stupid.”

He recently pivoted his stance on Twitter being a “digital town square” in an open letter to advertisers. “Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences!” he wrote in a statement last Thursday.