Twitter ‘hate speech’ has not increased under Musk
Contrary to media reports, the evidence isn't there
Since Elon Musk took over Twitter in October last year, there have been numerous articles claiming that “hate speech” on the platform has “surged”. To make this point, various kinds of evidence are cited.
The Center for Countering Digital Hate tracked the frequency of four slurs and their plurals, finding that all had increased substantially since Musk’s takeover. What’s more, engagement with tweets mentioning the particular slurs was also up.
Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email
Already registered? Sign in
Tufts University’s Digital Planet group examined the 20 most popular tweets containing racist, antisemitic or anti-LGBT content both before and after Musk’s takeover. They found that beforehand almost all the top 20 in each category were either quoting others or using words in a non-hostile way. Yet after the takeover, several in each category were genuinely hostile.
The Anti-Defamation League regularly reports antisemitic tweets to Twitter and keeps track of whether any action is taken. According to the New York Times, Twitter has gone from taking action on 60% of such tweets to taking action on only 30%.
Amnesty International carried out a survey in which they asked “LGBTQ+ activists” whether they had experienced an increase in abusive speech on Twitter since Musk took over. Among respondents, 60% said they had experienced an increase, with the remaining 40% saying they had experienced the same level as before; none had experienced a decrease.
Twitter is even facing a lawsuit in Germany over its failure to remove antisemitic content from the platform. In one case, the claimants argue that a request to remove a post denying the Holocaust was “explicitly rejected” (Holocaust denial being illegal in Germany).
All this would seem to constitute prima facie evidence that there has been an increase in “hate speech” since Musk took over Twitter. But of what magnitude and for how long? To try and answer these questions, I turned to StoryWrangler — a tool developed by researchers at the University of Vermont which allows you to track the frequency of words and phrases used on Twitter over time.
The chart below plots the frequency of the four slurs analysed by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (and their plurals). Each series was standardised to remove differences in overall usage. The red line is the average of the eight standardised series, while the dashed vertical line marks the date of Musk’s takeover.
On this timescale, there is little evidence of a major uptick in hate speech: slurs were used much more in earlier years than they are today. But perhaps there was a sharp increase around 27th October, one that will snowball with time? To check this, I did the same thing as before while limiting the analysis to the period comprising one month either side of Musk’s takeover.
There was a sharp increase, as can be seen above, but it only lasted for a few days. By 1st November, average usage of slurs was back to where it was on 26th October.
As Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of “Trust and Safety”, notes, a trolling campaign began shortly after the takeover was announced, whereby various accounts posted irreverent tweets to test whether they could use racial slurs. Many of these accounts were removed, which may help to explain why there was no sustained rise in the usage of such words.
I also checked the period comprising one month either side of 13th December – the date Musk dissolved Twitter’s “Trust and Safety Council”. But again, there was no sustained rise. There has been a moderate increase since the start of February, driven largely by the word ‘c*nt’. Its cause is unclear.
Tracking the frequency of slurs is not the only way of measuring “hate speech”, so my analysis cannot rule out that other kinds of hostile content have increased (e.g., image-based tweets). However, cases of in-your-face bigotry may be rarer than recent headlines suggest.
Musk is the digital Trump. ‘Everyone’ hates him because… let’s try and find or fabricate some ‘reasons’…
Personally I dislike the use of ‘hate’ as a preposition before speech or crimes. There are already laws to deal with criminal matters. Sticking a ‘Hate’ in front just encourages people with ‘hurt’ feelings to make an allegation (often on behalf of others).
Quite right. I agree.
As someone who, somewhat naively, voted for multi-multiculturalism in my country (South Africa), First: for the the ending of “white” rule, (the un-banning of all political parties) and then the universal franchise elections in 1994. I now realise that [We] are not one, but multi-cultures with (and mostly at odds with another), distinct views to how South Africa should function. Hence the obsession with the ruling party, ANC and others who shout racism at the drop of a hat – when it is pointed out that the are willfully incompetent and unsuited for the positions they hold.
How we solve this problem is complicated, with the far left intransigence to think logically and without malice. They have been brainwashed over many decades by the communists who were never liberal in to start with.
Multi-ethnic is fine, and can work well. Multi-cultural is not, and never works. Problems start when wishy-washy liberals use language sloppily, and attempt to conflate culture with ethnicity.
I’m less concerned about Twitter (never used it!) than the policing of speech in daily life.
This Woke enthusiasm for defining and denouncing ‘Hate’ speech and thought is sold to us as a way of protecting allegedly vulnerable identity groups from hurtful and even dangerous comment.
In fact, as with so many Woke tactics, it is really a subtle form of subversion. The wellbeing of the victims is not the real issue. The aim is to discredit the culture and people of the developed world as deeply flawed morally – deficient in those virtues the Woke do-gooders insist we should value above all others: care, compassion and inclusiveness.
Hate? No. Contempt? Yes.
Mainly because he’s a t**t.
He called his child “X Æ A-12”.
Obviously you must have “contempt” for a myriad of rock stars who gave their off spring weird and wonderful names. “A boy named Sue” from the Inimitable – Johnny Cash!
Don’t forget Grace Slick’s daughter, god (with a little “g” for humility).
If you judge a man by his enemies then Musk is clearly some kind of secular saint.
Hate speech in far too many (if not most) cases really means something that “I” disagree with.
Exactly. Your use of those quotation marks hits the nail on the head. They point to the fact that all speech is hateful. Unless of course one could manage to saying something with which no one could disagree.
My experience of twitter recently would suggest that the rise in the c-word is driven almost exclusively by Trans Rights Activists, who positively love the word and can barely go for more than two tweets without using it (usually aimed at an adult human female).
“Amnesty International carried out a survey in which they asked “LGBTQ+ activists” whether they had experienced an increase in abusive speech on Twitter since Musk took over. Among respondents, 60% said they had experienced an increase, with the remaining 40% saying they had experienced the same level as before; none had experienced a decrease.”
I’m not sure I would trust this self reporting given that Elon Musk is a hate-figure among much of the “LGBTQ+ activist” crowd.
I’m not surprised but thank you for providing the data which most of us do not have access to.
I lament the increase in the use of the C-word on Twitter and elsewhere. It devalues it. It is a wonderful word that must be used sparingly and only on the occasions when it is really merited.
Maybe https://queens-english-society.org/ could issue guidance?
I think the C-word should have died with Alf Garnett and Till Death Us Do Part.
Just as a matter of interest, shouldn’t this society rename itself to bring itself uptodate with the change in monarch?
To be honest who cares whether it has got better or worse. It was toxic before Musk and it continues to be toxic after he took over. Serious journalists including those who write for Unherd would be much better off completely ignoring Twitter. It might just disappear if that happened although Elon is not doing a bad job at destroying it himself!
Well, hate speech against women has increased, but I guess that doesn’t matter, right?
No increase in hate speech under Elon Musk?
I don’t use Twitter, but I am reliably informed there was a veritable deluge of Auschwitz memes very recently.
As I understand it, those who opposed his takeover of Twitter began to post racist comments just to prove how racist Elon Musk is. It’s like repeatedly punching someone in the face until they finally punch back and then crowing about how you knew they were violent all along.
The article mentions the increase at the start of his reign, which incidentally was driven by a handful of Discord raiders and 4channers posting the N word hundreds of times to drive these incidences up so as to laugh at it as well as ‘own the libs’ through explicit mockery of the Holocaust.
Join the discussion
To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.
Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.Subscribe