Twitter has been hit by a coordinated trolling campaign in the wake of Elon Musk’s takeover, with more than 50,000 tweets from 300 accounts bombarding the platform with hateful content.

The social media platform said it has been targeted with an attempt to make users think Twitter has dropped or weakened its content policies after the world’s richest man bought the company for $44bn (£38bn) last week.

Twitter’s head of safety and integrity said those running the site had not changed content policies but had been subject to “an organised effort to make people think we have”.

In a Twitter thread posted on Sunday, Yoel Roth said the company had seen a “ton” of tweets posted by a small number of accounts featuring slurs and other derogatory terms. To illustrate the scale of the attack, he said more than 50,000 tweets that repeatedly used one unspecified slur came from just 300 accounts.

Roth said most of those accounts were “inauthentic” and the users involved had been banned.

“We’ve taken action to ban the users involved in this trolling campaign – and are going to continue working to address this in the days to come to make Twitter safe and welcoming for everyone,” he wrote.

Our Rules prohibit Hateful Conduct. This includes targeting people with dehumanizing content and slurs.

This DOESN’T mean we have a list of words that are always banned. Context matters. For example, our policies are written to protect reclaimed speech.

— Yoel Roth (@yoyoel) October 30, 2022

Roth’s thread also linked to a post from Musk, who bought the platform last week, in which the Tesla chief executive said: “We have not yet made any changes to Twitter’s content moderation policies.”

Musk’s takeover has led to widespread expressions of concern that the multibillionaire, a self-confessed “free speech absolutist”, will relax content policies and reinstate banned accounts such as those controlled by the former US president Donald Trump and Katie Hopkins, the rightwing British political commentator.

Shonda Rhimes, the TV producer behind Grey’s Anatomy and Bridgerton, appeared to quit the platform on Saturday, telling her 1.9 million followers that she was “not hanging around for whatever Elon has planned”.

Not hanging around for whatever Elon has planned. Bye.

— shonda rhimes (@shondarhimes) October 29, 2022

As well as stressing that there had been no change to Twitter’s content policies, Musk has announced the formation of a “content moderation council”. He said the new body would bring together “widely diverse viewpoints” and no decisions on content policy or account reinstatements will be taken until the council has convened.

Musk has also indicated that Twitter could be split into different sections where users give their posts content ratings and take part in online rows in a specially created space on the platform.

His suggested changes emerged in interactions with Twitter users after the deal. He also supported a user’s suggestion that the service splits into different video game-style modes, including a “player v player” version where verified accounts can engage in Twitter spats.

The billionaire, who has more than 100 million followers on the platform, said users could select a version of Twitter like they were choosing a film based on its content rating.

He wrote: “Being able to select which version of Twitter you want is probably better, much as it would be for a movie maturity rating.”

Musk added that the rating of a user’s tweet could be self-selected and then “modified by user feedback”.


Dan Milmo Global technology editor

The GuardianTramp

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