HUNDREDS OF PROFILES belonging to the “worst” Twitter trolls emerged within days of Elon Musk’s multi-million dollar takeover bid, according to an international network of volunteers.
Over the last three years, volunteers have monitored 120 of the most persistent banned users who repeatedly “respawn” profiles on the social networking site.
They are currently targeting four hate groups, which are known for advocating violence, racism, and anti-Semitism, and reporting them to Twitter for quick removal.
Since the announcement of Musk’s deal to buy Twitter for €40 billion, there has been a surge in activity among the non-platform community, according to a British volunteer, whom the PA news agency agreed not to name.
Elon Musk praised ‘freedom of expression’ in announcing Twitter purchase
Source: Brian Lawless/PA
The day before the announcement, the network reported 28 newly respawned accounts to Twitter, it said.
On Monday, April 25, the day of the announcement, the figure jumped to 44.
The next day, 86 new respawned accounts were identified, peaking at over 100 the next day before dipping back down to 52 on Thursday, April 28.
That day, there were 181 active respawned accounts, including some transferred from earlier in the week because the Twitter app was delayed, the volunteer said.
Since then, the figures have remained consistently higher than in previous months, it added.
Sunder Katwala, director of the independent think tank British Future, has worked with the volunteer network after being attacked by a banned Twitter troll who also hurled racist slurs at three English footballers after the Euro 2020 final.
He told PA: “The worst people on the internet are obviously very excited about the opportunities of Elon Musk’s Twitter.
“His enthusiasm is at least a little premature because he doesn’t have it yet.
British Future director Sunder Katwala has been attacked on Twitter
Source: British Future/PA
“We still don’t know exactly what he’ll do when he does. The rules on Twitter are the same as before, and the application is the same.
“But obviously there’s a lot of excitement, a bit of a party atmosphere between the worst people on the internet. I think that’s potentially a problem.”
In his April 25 announcement, Musk praised free speech as the “foundation of a functioning democracy.”
He later clarified on Twitter, saying, “By ‘free speech,’ I simply mean what is consistent with the law.
“I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law. If people want less freedom of expression, they will ask the government to pass laws to that effect. Therefore, going beyond the law is contrary to the will of the people.”
Katwala said that by effectively committing “if it’s legal, it’s on,” Musk could run into problems with different legal systems outside the United States.
For example, Holocaust denial is illegal in Germany but not elsewhere, despite the fact that the vast majority of people consider it abhorrent.
There could be more state regulation if no consensus is reached on harmful but legal content, he said.
If in six months Musk loosens the rules on free speech, civil society and lawmakers will have to mobilize, Katwala suggested.
“In a way, he made a ‘forward’ statement on the arguments about free speech and hate speech.”
Joe Mulhall, director of research for anti-fascism and anti-racism campaign group Hope Not Hate, said the mood among the far right is “hugely” worrying.
He said, “A lot of the people banned on Twitter previously think this is an opportunity to jump back in. Within the extreme right there was much expectation.
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“I definitely think it’s fair to say that certain people without a platform feel like this was an opportunity for them to be allowed to come back and say what they want as a result.
“There is definitely something strange going on.
“What will happen in the long term when Musk takes over is very hard to say at this point.”
Mulhall identified a wave of high-profile far-rights in Britain and the US who tried to rejoin and were disengaged again.
Meanwhile, other right-wing accounts have seen a massive increase in followers, with an apparent corresponding loss in some left-wing profiles, he said.
“We don’t know what Elon Musk’s Twitter will look like. We can only go from what he has been saying, but the things he has been saying are troubling. Regulation is the only answer,” Mulhall said.
He said Twitter’s current moderation systems aren’t perfect, but rolling back would risk an increase in “toxic behavior,” which would ultimately stifle free expression and public discourse.
“We have seen what happened on platforms that have lax or no moderation. They become toxic and dangerous.
“We know that bad moderation policies mean more racism, more rape threats against women, homophobia.”
A Twitter spokesperson said: “It is our top priority to keep everyone who uses Twitter safe and free from abuse.
We have clear rules for dealing with threats of violence, abuse and harassment, and hateful conduct. It is also against our rules to bypass permanent suspension and we take action when we identify any tweet or account that violates Twitter’s rules.
“We recognize and want to reiterate our commitment to ensuring that Twitter does not become a forum for abuse, and we continue to examine our own policy approaches and ways we can enforce our rules at speed and scale.
“We have clear rules to address threats of violence, abuse and harassment, and hateful conduct.
“It is also against our rules to bypass permanent suspension and we take action when we identify any tweet or account that violates Twitter’s rules.”