Elon Musk accused of cashing in on tragedy as examine finds X rewards hate focusing on Israel-Gaza struggle

Just a few weeks after defeating Elon Musk’s attempt to silence it in court, anti-hate analysis nonprofit, the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), is again with a new piece of research into Musk’s social media platform X (previously Twitter). The examine builds on earlier work investigating his impression on on-line speech by spotlighting how coverage adjustments Musk enacted are actively rewarding hate speech posters with elevated attain, engagement and even direct payouts via X’s subscriber function.

The newest CCDH analysis takes the type of a case examine taking a look at development charges for ten influential accounts that are paying for X Premium and have posted anti-Jewish and/or anti-Muslim hate speech for the reason that Israel-Gaza battle sparked by Hamas’ assault on Israel on October 7, 2023. Among the accounts pivoted to struggle hate posts after beforehand posting COVID-19-related conspiracy principle content material, per the report.

The ten accounts tracked for the examine — which is entitled ‘Hate Pays: How X accounts are exploiting the Israel-Gaza conflict to grow and profit’ — are: Jackson Hinkle; Dr. Anastasia Maria Loupis; Censored Males; Jake Shields; Dr. Eli David; Radio Genoa; Ryan Dawson; Keith Woods; Approach of the World; and Sam Parker.

The CCDH discovered these accounts have been capable of enhance their attain on X after posting hateful content material focusing on the struggle. The report discusses examples of hate speech posted by the accounts, equivalent to tweets depicting antisemitic tropes just like the blood libel or searching for to dehumanize Palestinians by depicting them as rats. 

“Each of the accounts showed slow follower growth in the four months before October 7th, for a combined growth of approximately 1 million followers. However, in the four months after the outbreak of the conflict, they collectively gained 4 million new followers,” the CCDH wrote, saying it represents almost 4x development collectively vs the 4 months earlier than the struggle.

Progress charges for particular person accounts gaining new followers over the interval various, with the best development a number of recorded being 9.6 (for Dawson’s account), adopted by 8.3 (for Hinkle), and seven.1 (for Parker). On the decrease finish, Approach of the World grew its followers 1.7x over the interval.  

The report features a potted historical past of the tracked accounts’ notoriety, noting for instance that Hinkle is banned by WhatsApp, YouTube and PayPal. Or that the Censored Males (nameless) account used to typically submit in defence of poisonous masculinity influencer, Andrew Tate — however, since October 7, has centered on the Israel-Gaza battle. Whereas Dawson, a Holocaust denier who additionally believes the 9/11 terrorist assaults have been carried out by Israel, was beforehand banned from X however had his account reinstated in 2023 below Musk. 

Since taking on Twitter, as X nonetheless was again in October 2022, the billionaire has reversed a variety of legacy account bans, together with welcoming back notorious white supremacists and neo nazis. Coupled with coverage adjustments Musk has pushed in areas like content material moderation, account verification and premium options (equivalent to prioritized rating for paid accounts’ posts), the upshot is a polarizing speech platform the place it’s more and more troublesome to tell apart real data from lies, and the place the tone of posts all-too-often skew in direction of conversational outrage (or worse).

The CCDH contends that is intentional; a deliberate technique by Musk to revenue from tragedy. It’s accusing him of embracing hateful accounts and configuring X in order that purveyors of hate speech are in a position and inspired to show struggle and human struggling into a possibility to boost their profile on the service and earn income from posts that exploit violence and distress.

Six of the ten accounts it checked out have enabled X’s subscriptions function, that means their followers will pay them to entry further content material. The report additionally data a submit by Hinkle in early October when he shared a screenshot by which he appeared to have made $550 in advert income over the course of a month — immediately cashing in on engagement pushed by hateful posts.

In one other discovering, the CCDH stated its evaluation of the accounts confirmed that even crucial resharing — equivalent to quote tweets denouncing hateful content material — raised their visibility and attain (doubtlessly boosting revenue-generating alternatives). Such crucial reshares contributed as a lot as 28% to the attain of hateful posts, per the report, which recommended the determine is a conservative estimate because it doesn’t take account of X’s personal algorithmic response to those reshares, which applies additional amplification geared toward harvesting much more engagement for advert revenue.

Advert-funded enterprise fashions that earn income primarily based on consumer engagement in the end drive this anti-social outrage mechanism. In X’s case, Musk’s erratic behavior has alienated some advertisers. However not all: The CCDH discovered advertisements being served alongside hateful posts made by all of the tracked accounts. “We found ads for Oreos, the NBA, the FBI and even X itself placed near hateful posts,” it wrote.

“Under Elon Musk’s ownership, X appears to be pursuing a strategy of hosting as much controversial content as possible,” a CCDH spokesperson informed TechCrunch, responding to questions in regards to the analysis. “We know that this controversial content is addictive, not just for users who approve of it but also for users who criticize it too. The potential benefit to X is that these controversies could ramp up user time spent on the platform and increase ad revenue — but only if brands are willing to pay for ads that could be displayed near toxic content.”

“The accounts studied by our report have grown sharply despite posting false or hateful content, showing that posting such content is no impediment to growth on X. This is not unique to the Israel-Gaza conflict but it is the latest example of the problem. Our previous research into accounts that were reinstated following Musk’s takeover of Twitter shows that X stands to make significant ad revenue by welcoming users posting a range of topical hate and disinformation, from brutal misogyny to anti-vaccine conspiracies.”

Commenting on the report in an announcement, Imran Ahmed, CEO and founding father of the CCDH, added: “The public and advertisers need to know more about the symbiotic, profitable relationship between X and hate-peddling ‘influencers’. Lawmakers must act to enforce greater transparency and accountability from platforms and to allow these companies to be held responsible for harming the civil rights and safety of Jews, Muslims and other minority communities.”

Musk has beforehand claimed hate speech has decreased on his watch however earlier CCDH research debunked his declare.

X is also currently under investigation within the European Union for a string of suspected breaches of the bloc’s on-line governance and content material moderation regime, together with over its response to unlawful content material — which can embody hate speech. Penalties for confirmed breaches of the EU’s Digital Services Act can attain 6% of world annual turnover.