We are witnessing the brain death of Twitter
On Monday, Dec. 12, Twitter disbanded its Trust and Safety Council, a broad group of global civil rights advocates, academics and experts who have advised the company since 2016. Meanwhile, Musk welcomed back extremists high-level previously prohibited as the white nationalist Patrick Casey. According to data compiled by researcher Travis Brown, other reinstated people include Meninist, a “men’s rights” account with more than a million followers; Peter McCullough, a cardiologist who has gained wide following for advocating discredited covid-19 treatments and opposing the receipt of the vaccine; and Tim Gionet, a far-right media personality who live-streamed his participation in the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.
Musk’s enthusiasm for cutting jobs, cutting costs and destroying Twitter’s security infrastructure has caused advertisers to leave in droves. At one point, the company reportedly lost half of its top 100 ad customers, and it missed weekly ad revenue expectations by up to 80% in the United States. Musk’s behavior now poses tough questions for the brands that remain. The company has ceased to apply its policy on misinformation related to covid-19.
And while people who like Musk’s vision for Twitter are coming back to post, others are having a harder time justifying their presence on the site, declaring outages, or announcing their migration elsewhere. According to one estimate, Twitter lost a million users in just days after Musk’s takeover. Others give up tweeting even if they haven’t deleted their accounts yet. Some of them are highly publicized: Elton John quit Twitter on December 9 citing the site’s policy changes on misinformation.
MIT Technology Review performed analysis in Hoaxy, a tool created by Indiana University to show how information travels on Twitter by looking at both keyword frequency and interactions between individual accounts. The results hint at Musk’s new role in this network: also effectively a room monitor for the far right.
The tool visually traces interactions, showing connections between individual Twitter accounts on a specific keyword or hashtag and indicating whether that account is the one that amplifies the search term for others or is mentioned by accounts that do. . Accounts that are more actively involved in conversations appear as nodes.
Musk was a key ‘node’ of activity around the use of the slur ‘groomer’ – we looked at both ‘Groomer’ and ‘OK groomer’ – from Friday, December 9 through Sunday afternoon December 11, when we ran the an analysis. (We also ran a second query on Wednesday, Dec. 14, which showed similar results.) Musk himself didn’t tweet the word — which, according to a report from GLAAD and Media Matters, has dramatically increased in frequency and in scope during his tenure. Instead, it has been repeatedly tagged in conversations by other people who use it.
Sometimes these users are seemingly seeking attention and amplification from the owner of Twitter, and implicitly identify the recipients of the insult as potential targets of harassment. At other times, Musk is tagged in conversations where the insult is used to attack those who directly disagree with him on Twitter—including Jack Dorsey, co-founder and former CEO of the company, who tweeted at Musk last week to challenge his claim that the company “has refused to take action against child exploitation for years!” Musk regularly interacts with a selection of power users and fans, including conservative meme accounts and far-right figures like Ian Miles Cheong and Andy Ngo.
Increasingly, Musk isn’t just enabling these conversations, he’s joining them. “My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci,” he tweeted last weekend. When astronaut Scott Kelly publicly pleaded with him not to “mock and promote hatred towards the already marginalized and at risk of violence members of the #LGBTQ+ community,” Musk replied, “Forcing your pronouns on others when they haven’t asked for it, and implicitly ostracizing those who don’t, isn’t good or nice to anyone.