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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Antisemitic tweets soared on Twitter after Musk took over, study finds

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

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Below: Donald Trump returns to Facebook and YouTube, and school districts sue social media platforms. First:

Antisemitic tweets soared on Twitter after Musk took over, study finds

In the months after Elon Musk’s takeover, antisemitic posts on Twitter skyrocketed, according to a report shared first with The Technology 202, which offers a new detailed look into the growing prevalence of hate speech on the site. 

The study, which used machine-learning tools to identify likely antisemitic tweets, found that the average weekly number of such posts “more than doubled after Musk’s acquisition” — a trend that has held in the months after Musk took over.

The analysis found an average of over 6,200 posts per week appearing to contain antisemitic language between June 1 and Oct. 27, the day Musk completed his $44 billion deal to buy Twitter. But that figure rose to over 12,700 through early February — a 105 percent increase. 

The report — conducted by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a nonpartisan think tank, and CASM Technology, a start-up that researches disinformation and hate speech online — also found a “surge” in the number of new accounts created immediately after Musk took over that posted at least some antisemitic content. 

Researchers wrote that it represented a three-fold increase in the rate of “hateful account creation.” But critically, the researchers behind the study said the uptick in hateful content extended well beyond that initial wave of new accounts.  

“We’re seeing a sustained volume of antisemitic hate speech on the platform following the takeover,” said Jacob Davey, who leads research and policy on the far-right and hate movements at ISD.

The study marks one of the most extensive efforts to date to quantify how Musk’s drastic makeover of the company has impacted the prevalence of hate speech on the platform.

According to the report, researchers trained a machine-learning tool to spot tweets that “plausibly” matched at least one interpretation of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism. The organization lists making “dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews” and “Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews” as examples of antisemitic remarks. 

Researchers then manually reviewed a smaller subset of the posts to compare it with their algorithmic sorting tool, finding that it matched with 76 percent accuracy. 

“There are inherent challenges in training language models on as nuanced a topic as antisemitism,” the researchers wrote. 

Even with the caveats, researchers say the findings paint a clear picture: Antisemitic tweets have become far more prevalent under Musk. 

“We’re pretty confident that this is the most sophisticated attempt to map antisemitism on Twitter in the pre- and post-Musk era,” said Tim Squirrell, ISD’s head of communications.

Twitter replied to a request for comment with an email containing a poop emoji. Musk tweeted Sunday that Twitter’s press email will automatically respond in that manner.

Musk has denied claims that hate speech has risen on Twitter under his leadership. 

After a December report by advocacy groups found that hate speech was appearing on the site more often on average after his acquisition, Musk tweeted a graph that he said showed “hate speech impressions” were on the “decline” — without providing additional data to substantiate the claim. He suggested that one spike in engagement was due to a small number of accounts.

Musk has also claimed that Twitter will limit the circulation of “hate tweets” so that they are “max deboosted,” part of a policy he described as “freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach.” 

But according to the new findings, any impact from those changes appears marginal, with researchers identifying “only a very small decrease in the average levels of engagement” with antisemitic content and stating that it did not amount to an “appreciable change.”

Milo Comerford, who leads policy and research on counter-extremism for ISD, said the slight drop in engagement with antisemitic posts could be explained by the surge in overall volume.

“When you have a substantially higher volume of content that is propagating particular narratives, you can't expect all of that content to continue to have the same level of engagement,” he said.

Researchers and Democratic lawmakers have expressed concern that it could be significantly harder to track the prevalence and reach of hate speech on Twitter under Musk, given his plans to charge outside groups a significant amount to access data about the platform.

Our top tabs

Trump posts to Facebook, YouTube for first time since 2021 ban

Former president Donald Trump posted to his Facebook and YouTube accounts for the first time since he was suspended from the platforms following the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, our colleagues Gerrit De Vynck, Erica Werner and Jacob Bogage report.

Trump wrote “I’M BACK” on both the platforms and included a CNN clip from when he was elected to the presidency. Trump’s Facebook account was restored by Meta in January, while his Google-owned YouTube channel was brought back Friday.

Trump now has access to all major social media platforms he leveraged to win the 2016 presidential election, though he has tended to post to his own platform, Truth Social. Polling data shows Trump as the Republican front-runner for the 2024 election, the report says.

YouTube in a tweet last week said it “carefully evaluated the continued risk of real-world violence while balancing the chance for voters to hear equally from major national candidates in the run up to an election.”

The former president this weekend called for protests in an all-caps message on Truth Social that claimed he will soon be arrested in relation to a Manhattan criminal investigation.

TikTok reaches 150 million active U.S. users, CEO’s planned testimony says

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will tell a House panel that the popular short-form video app has reached 150 million active users in the United States, NBC’s Carol E. Lee reports.

Chew will reveal the new internal data about TikTok usership when he testifies to the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday over the platform’s data security practices and impact on kids’ mental health, Lee writes, citing a senior Democratic strategist advising TikTok.

The news comes as TikTok scrutiny reaches new highs in the United States and around the world as governments including Britain and New Zealand move to ban the app from government devices, alleging security and surveillance concerns.

President Biden in December signed a bill ejecting the platform from U.S. government devices. Last week, the White House threw its weight behind a plan to force TikTok’s Chinese owners to divest their ownership in the app or face a total ban in the United States, though our colleagues Drew Harwell and Cat Zakrzewski reported a total TikTok ban will likely face legal hurdles similar to the Trump administration’s attempt at a ban in 2020.

Social media giants sued by school districts over mental health concerns

School districts across the United States are suing major social media companies, alleging they have contributed to a surging youth mental health crisis, our colleague Donna St. George reports.

The first of the lawsuits came from Seattle Public Schools. Last month, momentum on the issue followed with schools in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida filing similar lawsuits. More are on the way, the report says, citing lawyers involved.

Most recently, an 107-page lawsuit filed in federal court last week from California’s San Mateo County alleges the social media companies use algorithms to intentionally make their platforms addictive, citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that warns of rising poor mental health and suicide risk among youth.

"Social media companies did not directly comment on the litigation but in written statements said they prioritize teen safety and described measures to protect young users," according to the report.

Agency scanner

The FCC is cracking down on robotext spam (The Verge)

Hill happenings

Amazon to D.C.: Can you please clean up all the space junk? (Politico)

Inside the industry

How Elon Musk knocked Tesla’s ‘Full Self-Driving’ off course (Faiz Siddiqui)

Competition watch

Top EU judge expects a wave of litigation from tech giants against new tech law (Reuters)

EU’s Microsoft-Activision deadline delay puts UK in driving seat (Bloomberg News)

Privacy monitor

China appeals for fair treatment after latest TikTok bans (The Associated Press)


What you should do about TikTok’s potential sale or ban (Shira Ovide)

ChatGPT can ace logic tests now. But don’t ask it to be creative. (Geoffrey A. Fowler)


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