'Destroying free speech!' Musk says cause of Twitter revenue plummeting is 'messed up'

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Following a “massive drop” in Twitter’s revenue, its new CEO Elon Musk took to the site to lay the blame at the feet of “activist groups pressuring advertisers”. The billionaire highlighted that the micro-blogging platform had not changed its policy on content moderation, claiming to have done “everything we could to appease the activists”. This, Mr Musk claimed, was “extremely messed up” and amounted to an attempt to “destroy free speech in America”. But commenters argued that a 500 percent rise in the use of racial slurs on the site since Mr Musk took over, his sharing of a conspiracy theory about the attack on Paul Pelosi, and the reinstatement of controversial figure Kanye West were the real reasons behind advertisers distancing themselves from Twitter.

Speaking a week after he bought Twitter for an estimated cost of around $44 billion, Mr Musk said: “Twitter has had a massive drop in revenue, due to activist groups pressuring advertisers, even though nothing has changed with content moderation and we did everything we could to appease the activists.

“Extremely messed up! They’re trying to destroy free speech in America.”

Several brands have announced their intention to distnace themselves from Twitter following Mr Musk’s takeover, including General Motors, General Mills, Audi and ad giant IPG, all of whom have paused their spending on the site.

Twitter also recently told employees on Thursday evening that it would be laying several of them off – which, according to Reuters, will also affect the content moderation team for the website.

Mr Musk’s tweet quickly accumulated over 200,000 likes and thousands of replies – many of which lampooning Mr Musk’s claim that activists were behind the revenue drop.

Many drew attention to the fact that Mr Musk, in a tweet he since deleted, shared a conspiracy theory surrounding the attack on Paul Pelosi in his own home. 

Commenter Erica Garcia said: “You literally spread a conspiracy theory about an assassination attempt on the 3rd highest person in the US federal government. I would guess companies don’t want to tie their brands to that kind of ‘free speech’ aka blatant lies.”

Mr Musk’s tweet was a response to one by Hillary Clinton, in which she said Rebpulicans were spreading “hate and deranged conspiracy theories” that she said had emboldened the man who attacked Nancy Pelosi’s husband.

In a reply to Ms Clinton’s post, Mr Musk wrote: “There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye” and then shared a link to an article spreading the conspiracy in faux newspaper, the Santa Monica Observer, which has spread a number of unfounded theories, including claiming in 2016 that Hillary Clinton had died and that a body double had been sent to debate Donald Trump.

According to data sources there has also been a significant uptick in the amount of hate speech used on the site since Mr Musk took over. 

While the billionaire has aimed to reassure advertisers that he doesn’t want Twitter to descend into a “free-for-all hellscape”, statements throughout the takeover in which Mr Musk bemoans what he describes as a lack of free speech on the site has created concern that he intends to loosen existing controls on the spread of misinformation and abusive language. 

In a poll he held on Wednesday, November 2, Mr Musk asked his 114 million followers whether advertisers should support “free speech” or “political correctness” – with the former being chosen by 78.3 percent of the 2.7 million voters who took part. Mr Musk has described himself as a “free speech absolutist”.

According to the Network Research Contagion Institute, uses of the n-word slur skyrocketed by 500 percent on the platform in the 12 hours following Mr Musk’s takeover. 

Yoel Roth, head of safety and integrity at Twitter claimed that many of the hateful tweets were coming from a small number of accounts. He said: “To give you a sense of scale: More than 50,000 Tweets repeatedly using a particular slur came from just 300 accounts.”

He added that these accounts were “inauthentic”.

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