Racist tweets quickly surfaced after Musk closed Twitter deal

Elon Musk's tweet reading "The bird is freed" is seen through a Twitter logo in this illustration taken October 28, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
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An emboldened cast of anonymous trolls spewed racist slurs and Nazi memes onto Twitter in the hours after billionaire industrialist Elon Musk took over the social network Thursday, raising fears of how his pledge of unrestricted free speech could fuel a new wave of online hate.

Twitter has struggled to enforce its rules against harassment and extremism, and the company has not yet published any broad-scale changes to its content-moderation policies.

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But Musk, a self-described "free speech absolutist," has fiercely criticized the company's previous leaders as overly rigid and suppressive and said he would work to overturn some of the company's main enforcement mechanisms, such as indefinitely suspending accounts.

A wide range of anonymous Twitter accounts celebrated Musk's takeover and argued it meant the old rules against bigotry no longer applied.

"Elon now controls twitter. Unleash the racial slurs. K—S AND N—S," said one account, using slurs for Jews and Black people. "I can freely express how much I hate n—s . . . now, thank you elon," another said.

In a tweeted letter Thursday, Musk had sought to soothe advertisers worried over the moderation changes by saying he did not want it to become a "free-for-all hellscape."

Related video: Elon Musk's ownership of Twitter begins

But the first hours of his purchase have shown how difficult that promise could be. One account, created this month, included a Nazi swastika as its profile picture and retweeted quotes from Musk alongside antisemitic memes. Another tweet, showing a video montage glorifying Nazi Germany with the comment, "I hear that there have been some changes around here," was liked more than 400 times.

Racial slurs were posted rampantly overnight. One single-word tweet, showing a single racial slur in all capital letters, was retweeted more than 500 times and liked more than 4,000 times. It was tweeted at 9 p.m. Thursday night and remained online nearly 12 hours later.

Some of the Twitter influx was organized on other platforms, including the pro-Trump forum TheDonald, where its top posts Friday morning showed tweets celebrating lies about Trump's 2020 election loss and memes criticizing transgender people under the headline "When you can't get banned on Twitter anymore."

"Cold Meme War, Twatter Defenses Down, Fire Away," another poster said, attaching an image of a soldier with a rifle and a "Make America Great Again" hat.

Musk's acquisition and almost-instant firing of its top executives was also widely celebrated in Telegram groups devoted to QAnon, the jumble of pro-Trump conspiracy theories. "Sometimes it takes a while, but the good guys win," one QAnon influencer wrote.

Some Twitter rules, however, still appeared to apply. Stew Peters, a far-right conspiracy theorist and radio host who was banned from Twitter, created a new account Thursday night and posted, "I'm BAAAAAAAAAAACK." By Friday morning, however, the account had been suspended.

But Musk's takeover is still fresh. After a right-wing influencer tweeted that he was still "shadowbanned, ghostbanned [and] searchbanned" on the platform, Musk tweeted Friday morning that he would "be digging in more today."

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