On Sunday, Twitter owner Elon Musk tweeted about a feature on the site that copies TikTok’s signature "Swipe up for more videos" functionality. While the feature originally came out in October, Musk highlighting it introduced it to droves of new users. Many reported being alarmed by a stream of graphic videos they encountered while scrolling through the feed, including videos showing gun violence, police brutality, physical altercations and vaccine misinformation.
The videos illustrate the differences between TikTok, known for serving light-hearted content, and Twitter, which has fostered a stew of viral news moments and has pulled back on moderation under Musk.
Many of the disturbing videos appear to have been posted in the last two days. Some of the original posts were seen on the timelines of millions of users within less than 24 hours since they were posted.
Musk appeared to be aware of potentially graphic videos, saying in a follow-up tweet Sunday that some videos could be “quite edgy.”
NBC News tested out the swipe up feature and found disturbing videos that depict animal abuse, police brutality and more, including a clip that shows what appears to be a police officer shooting an individual. The authenticity of these videos could not be verified by NBC News.
Some users who tested out the feature after seeing Musk’s tweet shared their surprise at encountering such violent content while swiping up on videos.
The unsettling content also highlights a potential problem with Twitter’s algorithm. One user, Casey Flores, told NBC News the striking videos they saw were unlike the content Twitter usually recommends on their feed. Flores said they saw videos of people getting shot and engaging in fist fights.
“It was like traumatizing,” Flores said. “Why would this be auto-served to me?” he asked, referencing a video that was presented to him showing two police officers striking a handcuffed person in the head with the back of their guns.
Another user wrote on Twitter that they stopped swiping through videos when “it took me from a cute dog video to a dead guy who impaled himself on the back of a truck.”
User engagement was high in at least two videos of gun violence that were recommended while swiping up. Some replies on one graphic video encouraged the display of police brutality.
Multiple users on Twitter said that they were recommended the same video of a road rage incident showing a woman shooting at a car with a child in the backseat. NBC News identified the original post, which has over 20 million page views and over 7,000 retweets. The popular account that posted the video has tweeted numerous other videos that depict road rage incidents and gun violence.
Some recommended videos reviewed by NBC News involved vaccine misinformation and anti-LGBTQ messaging, which reflects the wider visibility of such content on Twitter after it rolled back its Covid-19 misinformation policy and has increasingly become a platform that some advocates say invites LGBTQ bullying and harassment.
Posting graphic content is against Twitter’s rules, including the depiction of violence like physical fights and animal torture. The promotion of graphic videos on Twitter sheds light on the platform’s struggle to moderate content after Musk’s takeover of the site last year.
Since Musk’s takeover, Twitter laid off employees involved in moderating misinformation, and the head of Twitter’s trust and safety team, which is responsible for removing harmful content on the site, resigned this month. Twitter also disbanded the council that advised on online safety last year.
Musk is a proponent of near-absolute free speech on Twitter, which has caused a flurry of misinformation and harmful content to circulate on the site. NBC News previously reported on child exploitation material and medical misinformation found on Twitter and other social media platforms.
Twitter’s swipe up feature was launched on the site in October 2022, before Musk completed his takeover of the company. But Musk brought attention to the feature on Sunday, causing confusion among some users as to whether this was a new feature.
Social media sites like Twitter and Instagram implemented the feature that allows users to continuously scroll on videos, following its popularity on video sharing app TikTok. It has received a mixed reception from users on these platforms.