Elon Musk Under Fire for Capitalizing on Crisis: Study Uncovers X’s Incentives for Inciting Hatred during Israel-Gaza Conflict

The study builds on earlier work investigating his impact on online speech by spotlighting how policy changes Musk enacted are actively rewarding hate speech posters with increased reach, engagement and even direct payouts through X’s subscriber feature. Some of the accounts pivoted to war hate posts after previously posting COVID-19-related conspiracy theory content, per the report. The CCDH found these accounts were able to boost their reach on X after posting hateful content targeting the war. But not all: The CCDH found ads being served alongside hateful posts made by all the tracked accounts. “We found ads for Oreos, the NBA, the FBI and even X itself placed near hateful posts,” it wrote.

Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) Strikes Back Against Elon Musk’s Social Media Platform

A few weeks ago, the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) successfully defeated Elon Musk’s attempt to silence them in court. Now, the anti-hate research nonprofit is back with new findings about Musk’s social media platform, X (formerly Twitter).

“Hate Pays: How X accounts are exploiting the Israel-Gaza conflict to grow and profit”

The CCDH’s latest research takes the form of a case study, analyzing the growth rates of ten influential accounts on X Premium that have been posting anti-Jewish and/or anti-Muslim hate speech since the 2023 Israel-Gaza conflict sparked by Hamas’ attack on Israel. The report reveals that these accounts have seen an increase in reach, engagement, and even direct payouts through X’s subscriber feature, thanks to policy changes implemented by Musk.

The ten accounts tracked in the study are Jackson Hinkle, Dr. Anastasia Maria Loupis, Censored Men, Jake Shields, Dr. Eli David, Radio Genoa, Ryan Dawson, Keith Woods, Way of the World, and Sam Parker.

According to the CCDH, these accounts were able to boost their reach on X by posting hate speech targeting the war. The report highlights examples of such hateful content, including tweets featuring antisemitic tropes and dehumanizing depictions of Palestinians.

“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.

4x growth collectively vs the four months before the war.

The individual growth rates of the accounts varied, with the highest growth multiple recorded for Dawson’s account (9.6), followed by Hinkle (8.3) and Parker (7.1). On the other end of the spectrum, Way of the World only saw a 1.7x growth in followers during the same period.

The report also includes a summary of the tracked accounts’ notoriety, noting that Hinkle is banned by WhatsApp, YouTube, and PayPal. The anonymous account, Censored Men, used to defend toxic masculinity influencer Andrew Tate but has since focused on the Israel-Gaza conflict. Dawson, a Holocaust denier and believer of the 9/11 conspiracy theory, was previously banned from X but had his account reinstated in 2023 by Musk.

Since taking over X in October 2022, Musk has reversed several legacy account bans, including those of notorious white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Along with policy changes, such as content moderation and account verification, Musk has also introduced premium features that prioritize paid accounts’ posts. This has resulted in a polarizing speech platform where it’s challenging to distinguish genuine information from lies, and the tone of posts often leans towards outrage or worse.

The CCDH believes this is a deliberate strategy by Musk to profit from tragedies. The organization accuses him of embracing hateful accounts and configuring X to encourage purveyors of hate speech to take advantage of violence and misery for their own gain.

  • Six of the ten accounts studied have enabled X’s subscriptions feature, where followers can pay to access additional content.
  • The report also reveals a post by Hinkle in early October where he shared a screenshot appearing to show he earned $550 in ad revenue from hateful posts in just one month. 

The CCDH also found that even critical resharing of hateful content, such as quote tweets denouncing it, contributed to their visibility and reach on X, potentially increasing their revenue-generating opportunities. According to the report, such critical reshares accounted for up to 28% of the reach of hateful posts. However, this is likely a conservative estimate as X’s algorithmic response to these reshares further amplifies their engagement and ad potential.

This anti-social outrage mechanism is driven by ad-funded business models that rely on user engagement. The CCDH discovered that ads from brands, including Oreos, the NBA, the FBI, and even X itself, were being served alongside hateful posts from all the tracked accounts.

In response to questions about the research, a CCDH spokesperson told TechCrunch, “Under Elon Musk’s ownership, X appears to be pursuing a strategy of hosting as much controversial content as possible. 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 CEO and founder of the CCDH, Imran Ahmed, added in a statement, “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 previously claimed that hate speech has decreased on X during his ownership, but previous research by the CCDH has debunked his claim. Additionally, X is currently under investigation in the European Union for potential breaches of the bloc’s online governance and content moderation rules, including its response to illegal content like hate speech. Penalties for confirmed breaches can reach 6% of a company’s global annual turnover under the EU’s Digital Services Act.

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Kira Kim

Kira Kim is a science journalist with a background in biology and a passion for environmental issues. She is known for her clear and concise writing, as well as her ability to bring complex scientific concepts to life for a general audience.

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