Sacking at least half of Twitter's moderators has led to a surge in hateful content on the platform, Rachel Younger reports
It's hard to believe, it's been barely a month since the world’s richest man became Twitter’s self-proclaimed Chief Twit, paying 44 billion dollars for the privilege.
Since taking over the platform Elon Musk has insisted free speech is paramount, reinstating the likes of Kanye West and Donald Trump, who were previously banned (although so far the former president has stayed quiet).
But plenty of others haven’t and with half of Twitter’s content moderators now believed to be out of a job, ITV News has seen fresh evidence that the use of some hate speech has tripled.
Research by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) contradicts Mr Musk’s claim that a short spike in hate speech after he took charge of the platform has been quickly reversed.
Instead, a search tool normally used by advertisers to find mentions of brand names, revealed that specific hate slurs targeting black, gay and trans people were far more prevalent than before he took over the site.
In the week before Mr Musk’s claim, on 24 November, the use of one of the most offensive racial slurs went up by 197%.
A homophobic term jumped by 31% and tweets with a specific antisemitic slur in them went up by 24%.
The findings come as little surprise to Melissa Ingle who used to be a senior data analyst on the content moderation team at Twitter.
Three weeks ago, she found out she’d been sacked when she was suddenly unable to access her emails.
Since then, she’s stayed in touch with the team she worked with at Twitter HQ trying to make the site safer.
“There are eight people left of 30 data scientists there in my group, with the human content moderation team almost completely gone.
It's inevitable that things will fall through the gaps even more”, she told ITV News.
Imran Ahmed, the CEO of CCDH, commissioned the research because, with no board to hold Mr Musk to account or data to prove it, his claim that hate speech had fallen by 23% was unverified.
“We wanted to trust but verify so we looked at the data on really extreme hate words. We found that contrary to what Mr Musk was saying, hate speech had gone up again”.
Twitter has had a desperately chaotic few weeks. But Mr Ahmed believes most social media platforms push content designed to engage users by provoking strong feelings.
“If you are Jewish, the first content you’ll see is anti-Semitic because it makes you react and get angry and respond to it and spend time arguing with people. If you are a trans person you might see transphobia” he said.
“What it does is try to find a way to hook you in”.
Twitter declined our request for an interview but told ITV News: “Since the change in ownership, we are being more aggressive than ever, using technology to reduce the reach of hateful Tweets and prevent their amplification.
"Twitter remains committed to and will continue to invest in the moderation of illegal and harmful content”.
But after the tech world’s most turbulent takeover, its estimated around half of Twitter’s top advertisers have now deserted the site.
The question for one of the world's leading social media platforms is whether Elon Musk’s arrival is a new beginning or the beginning of the end.