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Twitter slipped on removing hate speech even before Elon Musk takeover, E.U. says

European regulators released data Thursday showing that Twitter and some other social media platforms did worse this year than in 2021 in removing posts that are illegal there.
Twitter headquarters in San Francisco on Oct. 28, 2022.
Twitter headquarters in San Francisco on Oct. 28.Jeff Chiu / AP file

Twitter and some of its social media competitors fell behind this year in their removal of hateful posts that are illegal in Europe, regulators there said in a report Thursday.

Twitter removed 45.4% of hate speech posts it was notified about in a sample this year, down from 49.8% in 2021, European Union officials wrote in their report.

Twitter performed worse on that metric than any other social media platform tested, according to the report, but some of them including Facebook, Instagram and TikTok fell behind as well compared to the previous year.

YouTube improved, removing 90.4% of reported posts, up from 58.8% a year earlier, the report said.

The data was collected from March to May, months before tech magnate Elon Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion and began loosening the site's enforcement even more around hateful posts.

Musk on Thursday announced that he would loosen enforcement even further, tweeting that he would grant a general "amnesty" next week to accounts that Twitter has previously suspended.

Musk's policies have put Twitter on a potential collision course with the E.U., where hate speech does not have the protection against government action that it has in the United States under the First Amendment. A new E.U. law, the Digital Services Act, threatens tech companies with fines in the billions of dollars if they don't strictly police their platforms.

Didier Reynders, the E.U. justice commissioner, said the latest data could be used in applying the new law.

“Last year, I called on companies to reverse the overall downward trend of notice-and-action without delay. This has not fully happened yet — companies must clearly step up their commitment,” Reynders said in a statement.

Twitter, YouTube and Meta — the parent company of Facebook and Instagram — did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the report, which E.U. officials released on Thanksgiving, when most U.S. offices are closed.

TikTok said in a statement that the E.U.'s research is "valuable for sharing knowledge and finding new ways in which we can improve our policies and strengthen our enforcement. We look forward to continuing our cooperation with the European Commission, NGOs and other signatories to keep TikTok a safe, positive and inclusive place for creative expression as we tackle the complex and ever-evolving issue of hate speech."

Racist tweets quickly spiked after Musk completed his purchase of Twitter in late October, outside researchers said.

Musk has said he's focused less on removing hateful posts and more on limiting how often people view such posts — keeping them from going viral. In a tweet Wednesday, Musk said that such views, or "impressions," of hate speech were down by a third from before he bought the company; outside researchers have not verified that claim.

Twitter's rulebook has long prohibited posts that promote "hateful conduct," and that policy was still on its website Thursday.

But Musk has also laid off or fired a large share of Twitter's workforce in his four weeks as owner and CEO, and the cuts have included people whose job was to watch for content that violated Twitter's rules.

CNBC reported Wednesday that tensions are also brewing between Twitter and the companies that run the two biggest app stores, Apple and Google, which have their own rules about content moderation.

E.U. officials said that they worked with 33 civil society organizations and three public bodies to notify tech companies of violations and monitor takedowns.

It’s the seventh such annual report they have released since 2016.