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Elon Musk’s Twitter is cutting a profit from unbanning accounts, according to new report

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A fleeing tide of advertising giants has been a dismal indicator of Elon Musk’s new vision of Twitter, one defined by employee mismanagement, abysmal site choices, and a clambering to replace lost revenue in any way possible. But, according to new research by The Center for Countering Digital Hate, Musk might already be making up that billion-dollar gap(Opens in a new tab) — just from reinstating the site’s most problematic tweeters.

The report, released Feb. 9, used the site’s new publicly viewable tweet impressions metric to calculate approximate revenue earned by just 10 accounts that had previously been banned from the site for violating user guidelines. The figures estimate that the accounts, which include the likes of embattled far-right influencer Andrew Tate, COVID vaccine denier Robert Malone, and disinformation site Gateway Pundit, could rake in more than $19 million in ad revenue a year.

“The data shows that, on an average day, tweets from the ten accounts received a combined total of 54 million impressions. Projecting this average across 365 days, the accounts can be expected to reach nearly 20 billion impressions over the course of a year,” the report stated. “Assuming this rate is broadly representative of how often Twitter serves ads, the ten accounts can be estimated to generate 2.9 billion ad impressions throughout the course of a year.”

The Center for Countering Digital Hate(Opens in a new tab) is a nonprofit advocacy and education organization working to limit harmful online content. The organization focuses specifically on how institutional structures, including the “online architecture” of sites and economic incentives, enable bad actors.

“The estimates demonstrate that Twitter will make millions of dollars from a deliberate decision to reinstate accounts that are known to spread hate and dangerous misinformation, and have already had enforcement action taken against them,” the organization wrote.

Musk has made a point to demonstrate his support of “free speech” by reinstating previously banned users across political delineations. In November, the site reinstated the polarizing accounts of comedian Kathy Griffin, author Jordan Petersen, and conservative satire publication The Babylon Bee, following the return of former President Donald Trump and U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

The next month, Twitter seemingly took on the free press, as a slew of tech and Musk-critical journalists were summarily suspended and then reinstated to the site shortly after. In January, the site reinstated the account of white supremacist Nick Fuentes.

That lack of discrimination (potentially influenced by projected revenue brought to the site by these controversial figures) is part of the problem. Following initial rumors of Musk’s takeover, human rights groups published warning after warning(Opens in a new tab) about the potential for unadulterated hate speech proliferating(Opens in a new tab) on a poorly moderated site. In the first 24 hours of Musk’s Twitter, researchers had already reported steep spikes in hate speech, with users testing the limits of the new “free speech absolutist” owner.

And those numbers are still going up, especially for members of the LGBTQ community. According to a new report by Amnesty International(Opens in a new tab),(Opens in a new tab) the social media giant has seen a sharp increase in instances of hate speech toward both LGBTQ activists and LGBTQ rights organizations.

Based on a survey of 11 LGBTQ organizations with large Twitter followings and nine high-profile LGBTQ advocates, 65 percent of respondents said that there is “more hateful and abusive speech on Twitter compared to other platforms they use” and 88 percent of them had received no support from Twitter to mitigate or remove abusive content. Around 60 percent of organizations said the presence of hate speech has impacted how they use the platform, but the problem seems to be more severe for individuals — eight of the nine activists reported Twitter’s practices have changed how they tweet.

“Twitter considers itself a ‘common digital town square,’ yet it’s a town square where LGBTQ+ voices are all too often shouted down and silenced by constant hateful speech and harassment,” wrote Michael Kleinman, Senior Director of Technology and Human Rights at Amnesty International USA. “According to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights(Opens in a new tab), all companies have a responsibility to respect human rights — it’s disappointing, to say the least, to hear that the problem of hateful and abusive speech on Twitter is only getting worse.”

In July, LGBTQ organization GLAAD issued its “Social Media Safety Index,” which gave Twitter a failing grade at instituting, and enforcing, policies that protect users from threats, hate speech, harassment, violence, and attacks based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. In the era of Twitter 2.0, the grade can’t have improved — Musk gutted the platform’s Trust and Safety Council(Opens in a new tab) in December, as well as its Global Human Rights team.

This further raises the question: If the presence of accounts spreading disinformation and hate speech brings in money, what further incentive is there for a profit-driven CEO like Musk to enforce any kind of safety precautions?

While the answer is being weighed by executives, users have to shoulder the burden, stepping up where the site is failing and acting to protect themselves online.

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