Twitter CEO Elon Musk on Tuesday poked holes in a BBC reporter’s suggestion that there is more hateful content on the social-media app since Musk’s takeover.
The reporter, James Clayton, could not name a single example of hateful content he’d seen on the site.
Musk asked Clayton to describe what he considers “hateful content.” Clayton offered a definition: “Content that will solicit a reaction. Something that may include something that is slightly racist or slightly sexist. Those kinds of things.”
“So you think if something is slightly sexist, it should be banned?” Musk asked.
“No,” Clayton replied. “I’m not saying anything.”
The pair then went back and forth, with Musk pressing Clayton for specific examples of hateful content. Clayton said he could not offer any because he no longer uses the “For You” feed on Twitter.
BBC ‘journalism’ at its finest 🤦🏻♂️
— Darren Grimes (@darrengrimes_) April 12, 2023
“You said you’ve seen more hateful content but you can’t name a single example, not even one,” Musk said. Clayton said he hasn’t used the For You feed in three or four weeks but has been using Twitter since Musk bought the company for $44 billion in October.
“So then you must have, at some point, seen the For You hateful content and I’m asking for one example and you can’t give a single one,” Musk said. “Then I say so that you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Musk later added, “You can’t give a single example of hateful content, not even one tweet, and yet you claimed that the hateful content was high. That’s false. You just lied.”
Clayton pushed back, saying, “What I claimed was there are many organizations that say that kind of information is on the rise now, whether it has on my feed or not.” He cited a report from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in the U.K.
“People will say all sorts of nonsense, I’m literally asking for a single example and you can’t name one,” Musk said.
The back and forth continued with Musk calling it “absurd” that Clayton could not back up his claim with a single example.
Clayton ultimately noted the conversation was not “getting anywhere” and urged Musk to change topics.
The Institute for Strategic Dialogue responded to the interview in a Twitter thread, pointing to their study that found a “sustained 2x rise in English-language antisemitic speech since Musk took over Twitter.”
The group’s report detected 325,739 English-language antisemitic tweets between June 2022 and February 2023. The weekly average number of antisemitic tweets increased by 106 percent, to 12,762 from 6,204, when comparing the period before and after Musk’s acquisition, according to the report. The report’s methodology “draws on a suite of natural language processing classifiers trained to identify antisemitic content in line with the [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism], allowing us to identify messages at scale which can plausibly be categorised as hate speech.”
“There are inherent challenges in training language models on as nuanced a topic as antisemitism,” the group acknowledges. “But this architecture is evaluated to operate with an accuracy of 76%.”
The group’s Twitter thread goes on to add: “In the period since Musk’s Twitter acquisition, our study found that the rate of creation of antisemitic accounts tripled. Engagement with antisemitic content remained steady, despite promises to ‘deboost and demonetize’ hate speech.”
“The study did also find that an increased proportion of antisemitic content appears to have been taken down since Musk took over. However, this has not kept pace with the absolute increase in antisemitic content on the platform,” it said.
Another openly ‘National Socialist’ (i.e. neo-Nazi) account is documented as boasting that is has now been verified by Musk’s Twitter Blue programme. https://t.co/Fv88AVxOOO
— Institute for Strategic Dialogue (@ISDglobal) April 12, 2023
The institute said “one way of demonstrating why the problem is perceived to have worsened is the presence of ‘verified’ accounts which are explicitly white supremacist,” and offered the example of a user who is said to be a follower of white supremacist Nick Fuentes being allowed to receive a blue check through a Twitter Blue subscription despite having a racial slur in their username.
The BBC interview comes as Twitter recently labeled the BBC and NPR as “Government Funded Media.” Both outlets have pushed back against the designation, with NPR refusing to post to the platform until the title is removed. Musk told the BBC it would change its description to “publicly-funded” instead.