Internet and Extremism Experts Predict More Hate Speech and Conspiracy Theories on Musk’s Twitter

Internet and Extremism Experts Predict More Hate Speech and Conspiracy Theories on Musk’s Twitter

When Elon Musk, a billionaire entrepreneur, purchased Twitter and promised that “the bird will be freed” last week Felix Ndahinda saw danger rising.

Ndahinda is a lawyer who has studied international law. He works in Tilburg (the Netherlands) as a consultant for issues relating to conflict and peace within the African Great Lakes Region. He has seen the potential of a ‘free Twitter’. He has been following the spread of hate speech on social media during the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo for years. Many of this incendiary speech is not detected by the platforms that use them to identify harmful content, such as Twitter. It is shared in languages that are not part of their screening tools.

Ndahinda believes that Musk’s promises to reduce Twitter’s oversight over social-media posts will increase hate speech’s momentum and influence in the Great Lakes. Ndahinda says, “A permissive culture in which anything goes will always increase trends.” It will encourage actors and increase the virulence of their hate speech

All eyes are on Twitter as Musk’s plans to build the platform become clear. It is not clear at this point how far Musk will go to fulfill his pledge to be a “free speech absolutist”, which has raised concerns about whether he will reduce oversight of potentially harmful or offensive tweets. However, past research has provided some insight into the potential impact of looser restrictions on Twittering.

” It’s a very complicated ecosystem,” Gianluca Stringhini, a researcher at Boston University in Massachusetts who studies cybersecurity and cybersafety, says. “But if we remove moderation on Twitter, then things will get worse .”

All in moderation

Twitter currently uses a combination human and automated curation to moderate discussions on its platform. Sometimes, it tags questionable material with links to more reliable information sources and sometimes bans users for repeatedly violating its policies regarding offensive or harmful speech.

Musk repeatedly stated that he wants Twitter to loosen its restrictions on speech. Twitter saw a rise in hate speech within the first few days after Musk bought the company. By 31 October, the company said that it had removed 1,500 accounts related to such posts, and Musk says that, for now, its moderation policies have not changed.

It is not clear how the company will proceed. Musk met with civil-rights leaders to discuss his plan to create a moderation council that would be responsible for establishing policies against hate speech and harassment. Musk stated that users who were banned prior to Musk’s takeover would not be allowed to return until a process was established for them to do so.

Some users who were banned from Twitter may have moved to less-known platforms that have fewer restrictions on what can be said. Stringhini says Their social-media activity becomes more extreme and toxic once they are there. He says, “We see a larger community that is more active and committed — but also smaller.”

These platforms are where false narratives begin, Stringhini says. These false narratives explode when they get pushed onto mainstream platforms like Twitter and Facebook. He says that they are pushed on Twitter and become out of control because everyone sees them and journalists cover it.

Twitter’s policies to restrict hate speech and misinformation about certain topics — such as COVID-19 — reduce the chances that such tweets will be amplified, so loosening those policies would allow them to find larger audiences.

Bad business

“When people have some sort of public standing on social media using inflamatory speech — especially speech that dehumanizes people – that’s when I get really scared,” said James Piazza, a Pennsylvania State University student studying terrorism. “That’s where you can have more violence

However, Piazza says that a rise in extremism or misinformation could make a platform like Twitter less popular. This is based on other social-media platforms that have loose restrictions on speech. Piazza says that these communities “degenerate to the extent where they’re no longer usable — they are flooded with bots, pornography and objectionable material.” “People will gravitate towards other platforms .”

And regulations coming from the European Union could make Musk’s ‘free speech’ rhetoric impractical, according to Rebekah Tromble (a political scientist at George Washington University, Washington DC). The EU’s Digital Services Act, which will be in effect in 2024,, will require social media companies to mitigate any risks from illegal content or disinformation. Tromble states that while Twitter and other platforms might try to create policies and practices specific for Europe in theory, this would likely prove difficult in practice. “Mitigation measures will have an impact on the entire system .”

if it’s fundamental systems and core algorithms that are introducing these risks.

Tromble believes that the Musk era of Twitter will start with chaos as Musk and Twitter users test out the boundaries. She believes it will settle down into a system similar to the Twitter of old.

In the coming weeks Stringhini expects to launch studies comparing Twitter before and following Musk’s takeover. These studies will examine changes in the spread and dissemination of disinformation, who accounts are suspended and whether users quit Twitter to protest new policies. Tromble will monitor Twitter campaigns of coordinated harassment.

Whether changes to Twitter policies will have an effect on real-world behavior is another open question. Researchers have struggled to clearly disentangle the social media effects from the many factors that influence a changing social climate. A 2017 study of more then 1 ,200 US Republican or Democratic Twitter user found no significant effect of exposure to accounts run by the Russian Internet Research Agency on political attitudes or behaviours. Stringhini says, “We’re often measuring what types of narratives pick-up and how they go viral.” “The missing link is that it is impossible to determine if the online messaging is actually changing any person’s actions or opinions in the real world .”


To Ndahinda however, it is obvious that the normalization of hate speech, conspiracy theories, and social media have all contributed to violence in Democratic Republic of Congo. Academics have not been able to clearly delineate this contribution. Ndahinda says, “It is very difficult to find the casual link between a tweet and violence.” “But we have many actors making public incitements to commit crime, and then later those crimes are

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