A new study from Montclair State University showed a dramatic increase in hate speech on Twitter immediately following Elon Musk’s acquisition of the social media platform.
Musk, who describes himself as a free speech absolutist, closed the deal on the platform on Thursday, Oct. 27. He said he promised to reduce Twitter's content restrictions to promote free speech, yet no official changes have been made since the acquisition aside from the announcement of a to-be-formed “content moderation council” that will review company policies.
“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” Musk said in a statement when the deal was announced.
Some online have expressed concerns about what they see as a rise in misinformation and hate speech on one of the most popular social media sites.
Despite the lack of changes to content restrictions, some researchers say that a number users seemed to take Musk’s leadership as an open invitation to spread hate online.
Montclair State University researchers who studied how often certain homophobic, antisemitic and racial hate terms were used found no more than 84 tweets featuring hate terms were posted per hour when looking at the seven-day average before Musk acquired Twitter. This totals to just over 1,000 tweets in 12 hours.
On Oct. 28, in the first 12 hours following Musk's acquisition, hate speech was tweeted an estimated 4,778 times, according to the report.
“The character of what Twitter will look like with Musk as the head remains speculative, despite his stated intentions,” the report reads. “What is not speculative, however, is the extent to which his date of formal acquisition was celebrated by racist and extremist users on the platform.”
The Montclair State researchers found that the potential number of times a term posted in Twitter could have been viewed was more than 3 million.
In similar research by the cyber research organization Network Contagion Research Institute, the use of the N-word racial epithet skyrocketed by over 500% on the website on Oct. 28.