Elon Musk’s promise that Twitter would not descend into a “free-for-all hellscape” might be starting to ring hollow, as a flood of racist posts and Nazi memes appeared on the site.
“Elon now controls twitter. Unleash the racial slurs. K—S AND N—–S,” said one account, using slurs for Jews and Black people.
“I can freely express how much I hate n—–s … now, thank you elon,” another said.
According to The Washington Post, one single-word tweet, showing a single racial slur in all capital letters, was retweeted more than 700 times and liked more than 5,000 times. It was tweeted Thursday night and remained online more than 16 hours later.
Another account, created within the last month, used a Nazi swastika as its profile picture and retweeted quotes from Musk alongside antisemitic memes. Another tweet, which displayed a video montage glorifying Nazi Germany was accompanied with the comment, “I hear that there have been some changes around here.” It was liked more than 400 times.
The National Contagion Research Institute (NCRI), which analyses social media posts, said use of the n-word on the app spiked nearly 500 percent over the 12 hours after Musk’s deal was finalized.
The increase in racist abuse was accompanied by a similar rise in anti-LGBTQ+ hate. By the afternoon of Musk’s takeover, misogynistic and anti-LGBTQ messages had become increasingly prominent. Accounts were calling for the harassment and misnaming of transgender people or the use of terms, like “groomer,” to insinuate that they sexually recruit children.
Some anti-LGBTQ Twitter users began running “tests” of Twitter’s new rules by posting the previous names, known as “dead names,” of prominent trans media figures and by misgendering high-profile trans women.
“Almost immediately I noticed an increase in anti-trans harassment, it’s very visible,” said Erin Reed, a trans activist and legislative researcher.
“I’m seeing more people in comments with explicit threats, more misgendering, more harmful slurs. I’ve gotten pictures of me getting shot by a shotgun. It’s a pretty scary environment on Twitter right now.”
The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ civil rights group, said it was “very concerned” about Musk’s ownership.
“Twitter has a right, and a responsibility, to keep its platform from being exploited to fuel a dangerous media environment,” the group said. “This isn’t about censorship or discrimination of ideas — it is about what kind of company they want to be and what kind of world they want to shape.”
Alex Goldenberg, NCRI’s lead intelligence analyst, said the jump in the use of racial slurs had been organised on anonymous message boards including 4chan. The posting was intended “to make as big a mess as possible for Twitter’s new management.”
“Online trolls regularly test the limits of moderation,” Goldenberg said. Rather than a “paradigm change” at the company, he said, the spike could show that these groups “are seeking to give Elon Musk all he can handle.”
Musk, since taking over Twitter, has been tweeting incessantly about how the so-called mainstream media has a bias problem.
“The Guardian used to have balance (moderately left) and integrity, but now it is a far left wing propaganda machine. I hope they get back to where they were one day,” he wrote in one tweet.
In another tweet, the Tesla CEO, criticised The New York Times.
This is fake – I did *not* tweet out a link to The New York Times! pic.twitter.com/d6V6m5ATW2
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 31, 2022
Musk had said that he would be forming a content moderation council but has made no promises on what would be permitted on the platform, who would sit on the council, how its members would be selected, and whether it would have any direct power over the company.
However, he did say that the council would have “widely diverse viewpoints.”