Elon Musk’s ‘pardon’ pledge brings back far-right QAnon Twitter accounts

Elon Musk’s Twitter is starting to take shape.

A “general amnesty” has returned hundreds of accounts of right-wing activists and followers of QAnon, according to data reviewed by NBC News. The reinstatement of far-right accounts has coincided with a series of bans on left-wing accounts, leaving users unsure how the company will now enforce its rules.

“Ambiguousness is an issue,” said Yoel Roth, who recently left as Twitter’s head of trust and safety. “People don’t know if the rules have changed, and the pardon suggests that at least on some level, there is disagreement with the exclusion of some of these people. So, we’re seeing a lot of lines being pushed, along with more restrictions being imposed. It’s a dangerous mix.”

The pushbacks and bans come as researchers continue to monitor the rise of hate speech, and high-profile users leave the platform. Together, they have transformed the platform that Musk has noticed Criticsas well as him Supporters.

Musk, who took control of Twitter in late October, has confirmed that the company has not changed any of its moderation policies, even though Twitter announced .this week They no longer enforce their Covid misinformation policy.

But Musk also used informal Twitter polls to make important decisions, first to restore former President Donald Trump’s account, and then issue a “general pardon” to suspended accounts.

“People have spoken,” he wrote on Twitter last week. “The amnesty starts next week.”

Musk kept his word. Travis Browne, an independent software developer in Berlin who tracks Twitter suspensions and screen name changes as part of a project studying extremism, shared a data set for this article that showed a wide range of far-right accounts have been reinstated since Musk’s announcement.

In that time, Brown has logged an estimated 12,000 setbacks to the previous ban, in a collection that, while not a definitive list of setbacks, provides a window into the types of users who are being welcomed back to the platform and left experts concerned. Among spammers, copyright breakers, adult content creators, and high-profile accounts, Twitter has reopened the door to a growing and encouraging community of trolls, white nationalists, conspiracy theorists, and alt-right activists.

The accounts of Patrick Casey, the white nationalist, and Andrew Anglin, the neo-Nazi, have been restored.

“I never thought I’d see the day I’d be allowed back on Twitter and yet here we go,” Casey told listeners on his podcast Tuesday.

These renovations coincide with some users saying they experienced an uptick in inconveniences that prompted them to leave.

“Since the acquisition, I have received an increasing amount of casual racism and sexual harassment,” Jane Manchun Wong, a Hong Kong-based independent app researcher known for cracking insider secrets about running features, said Wednesday in a post on the open-source social network Mastodon, citing a “quantity The trolls that are getting more and more empowered on the site.”

Author Sam Harris Delete his account With 1.5 million followers last week, after Trump was reinstated. In one of his recent tweets, Harris wrote, apparently referring to Musk, “The prevailing opinion among ‘freedomers’ seems to be that this platform, to become healthy, must helplessly spread the malicious lies of any lunatic, far and wide.” ., regardless of the consequences.”

Several accounts in Brown’s group had tags and hashtags on their bio indicating that they participated in the QAnon conspiracy theory movement, which was largely deleted from Twitter last year.

The reinstatement also comes after Twitter significantly reduced its staff, including those dedicated to dealing with abuse and hate speech. In an interview Wednesday with technology journalist Kara Swisher, Roth expressed skepticism about the platform’s ability to enforce its waning policies.

“Are there enough people who understand and understand emerging malicious campaigns occurring on the service well enough to guide product strategy and policy direction?” Asked. “I don’t think there are enough people left in the company who can do this job.”

While a lack of effective content moderation has been said to have alienated advertisers and some users, the move to bring back large numbers of past rule-breakers has also drawn attention to the platform, a metric Musk appears to value, said Sarah T. Roberts, an associate professor at University of California, and author of Behind the Screen: Content Moderation in the Shadows of Social Media. She worked briefly at Twitter looking for content moderation, but is back at school this year.

It described restoring the banned accounts as a “field day” for their owners.

“From their point of view, there is a sense of defensiveness and that all you have to do is wait for the weather to return,” said Roberts.

It appears that this turn now also includes new suspensions, as well as account restores.

Several independent media accounts covering far-right groups and left-wing activists have been suspended in recent days.

Chad Lauder is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist with more than 137,000 followers whose reporting of the January 6 riots is cited in DOJ documents. Lauder, who uses their pronouns, had his account recently suspended, reinstated briefly and then suspended again for no apparent reason.

Twitter initially mistakenly identified the account as spam, reinstated it on Nov. 23, and then suspended it again for evading a ban, according to company notices, which Lauder shared in an interview.

Lauder said his account was banned shortly after he was placed on a right-wing “target list” of accounts for reporting violations of the Twitter Rules.

On November 25, the account of anti-fascist publishing group CrimethInc, which had more than 66,000 followers, was suspended after right-wing activist Andy Ngo tweeted at Musk asking him to block it. Lee Young, a member of the group, said CrimethInc never received an official explanation for the comment.

“This suggests that the decision to block our account shortly thereafter was dictated by Musk himself,” Young said.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment on the suspensions and reinstatements. Comment requests sent to email addresses associated with Musk bounced as undeliverable. On Thursday, Musk showed off such a unilateral decision, commenting on Yee for “inciting violence” after the rapper tweeted a photo of a swastika inside a Star of David.

The move struck some observers as antithetical to Musk’s previous embrace of free speech.

Elon Musk’s “absolute freedom of speech” is now drawing the line that a number of European countries have always had, tweeted Maretti Chaquetis a former Member of the European Parliament and Director of International Policy at the Stanford Center for Cyber ​​Policy.

The platform’s shift was enough to turn some right-leaning folks away. Claire Lehman, founder of the online magazine Quillette, which has emerged in recent years as a popular destination for new writers with libertarian leanings, and is sometimes called the “intellectual dark web,” left Twitter last week. Before deleting her account, Shane chirp That people were “bullied” on the platform and that followers don’t equal increased earnings for content creators, anyway. She wrote: “It makes sense to leave.”

Celebrities have jumped ship, too. Jim Carrey was the last big name to leave on Tuesday night, telling his 18.9 million followers, “I love you all so much!” The actor follows a large group of famous users who have taken their content from Twitter since Musk’s takeover. Accounts for musician Trent Reznor, actress Whoopi Goldberg, singer Toni Braxton, musician Moby and TV producer and writer Shonda Rhimes have either been deleted or remain dormant. Links made weeks ago pointed to accounts with millions of followers now frozen on their farewell tweets, or acted as little gross tags saying, “This account does not exist.”

This isn’t the first time that high-profile Twitter users have fled the platform, in many cases, only to reactivate their accounts after a few days or weeks off. There is some evidence that prominent exits are outliers. Data from two independent research firms also found that downloads and activity grew in the weeks after Musk took office, most notably in the US.

But data collected by researchers tracking hate speech online appears to support recent claims that the platform has become less a place for “healthy conversations” and more as a platform where hate and misinformation can spread unchecked. Musk disputed those claims through Posting charts Citing Twitter’s data on total impression volume showing a decline in hate speech, though it didn’t detail how the company reached those conclusions.

He repeated the claim on Friday, tweeting that the general reach of hate speech based on the number of times the tweets were viewed had decreased.

The Network Contagion Research Institute, an independent organization that monitors hostile ideological content online, reported a 500% spike in N-word use on Twitter in the hours after Musk took over. He also noted the apparent reward for hate speech on the platform, reporting that Ye nearly doubled his number of followers after making antisemitic tweets. “Gossip, toxicity, anti-Semitic intrigue and new followers escalate with each successive controversy,” the group wrote. on Twitter.

Musk has responded to claims that Twitter is becoming more volatile. Last month, he tweeted that Twitter would have a policy of “freedom of expression, but not freedom of access.” “Negative/hate tweets will be unpublished and rendered ineffective,” he wrote on Twitter.

Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a nonprofit group, called Musk’s allegations “maximum gaslighting.”

Last week, the group reported that Twitter had failed to moderate tweets that racially abused athletes competing in the soccer World Cup. And in an unpublished report provided to NBC News, the group showed that tweets promoting hate toward LGBT people were viewed tens of millions of times in the aftermath of a mass shooting in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

A study from the Center for Strategic Communications at Montclair State University released this week found a spike in anti-LGBT insults on Twitter following the Colorado nightclub shooting, with the terms “grooming” or “groomer” peaking at 885%. highest level before shooting.

“We all understand the importance of free speech, but there are risks to operating platforms like Twitter as a ‘free speech shooter’,” Bond Benton, associate professor in the School of Communication and Media, said in the report.

According to data from the Center for Countering Digital Hate, one of the most viewed anti-LGBTQ tweets came from James Lindsay, a right-wing media personality who takes credit for popularizing the “groomer”.

He was previously permanently banned from Twitter for violating the hateful conduct rules.

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