So, Elon Musk finalized his acquisition of Twitter last week, and surprising to nobody who’s familiar with bigots being bigots, it took only a few hours for the social media platform to explode with racial slurs by people who believe free speech and hate speech are one and the same.
But according to Twitter, the all-out epithet-extravaganza wasn’t the result of random racists around the world celebrating its new ownership by slinging slurs around freely like they were being featured on White Supremacists Gone Wild. Instead, the platform said it was an organized trolling effort.
Instances of the N-word on Twitter increased by almost 500% in a 12-hour period over the previous average following Musk’s closing on the $44 billion acquisition, according to the Princeton-based Network Contagion Research Institute, which tracks “cyber-social threats.”
Responding to the increase in N-word occurrences, Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of safety and integrity, on Saturday evening posted a thread blaming the hateful conduct on a “trolling campaign.” According to Roth, over the previous 48 hours, Twitter had seen “a small number of accounts post a ton of tweets that include slurs and other derogatory terms.” He said more than 50,000 tweets repeatedly using “a particular slur” — an evident reference to the N-word — had come from just 300 accounts, nearly all of which are “inauthentic.”
Even if this is true, it just sounds like 300 cowardly racists decided Musk buying Twitter meant a green light on a hate speech free-for-all.
Musk also tweeted in response to the bigot barrage that “we have not yet made any changes to Twitter’s content moderation policies.” And when NBA star LeBron James tweeted about his concern that Musk “and his people take this very seriously because this is scary AF,” Musk responded by pointing to Roth’s thread.
Still, the bottom line is this: Elon Musk bought Twitter, and racists, whether authenticated or not, saw the news as a call to racist action.
Maybe it’s time Musk really asked himself why that is.