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Elon Musk Will ‘Purge Bots and Trolls” from X: Is He Finally Addressing Platform’s Safety Concerns?

Last Updated April 5, 2024 10:42 AM
James Morales
Last Updated April 5, 2024 10:42 AM

Key Takeaways

  • Elon Musk has said X is implementing a “system-wide purge of bots and trolls.”
  • Since he took control of the platform in 2022, incidents of hate speech have increased.
  • Research shows that X bots are a significant source of hateful posts.

Since taking charge of the social media platform now known as X in 2022, Elon Musk has often found himself at odds with online safety campaigners.

On Thursday, April 4, however, he announced a “system-wide purge of bots and trolls,” that could appease some of his critics.

Elon Musk and Hate Speech on X

For the last 2 years, Musk’s leadership of X has been defined by his belief that content moderation is tantamount to censorship.

A major rebranding of the platform formerly known as Twitter has seen prominent accounts that were banned under the previous leadership reinstated. While Musk insists that X will always remove illegal posts, the self-described free-speech absolutist has generally championed a more libertarian ethos for the social media site.

Having gutted the platform’s trust and safety department throughout 2022 and 2023, multiple studies have confirmed  that incidences of hate speech have risen sharply under Musk’s watch.

However, the X boss contests that the number of hateful posts is less important than how many people see them, which he claims has declined.

This crackdown on bots and trolls could act as a counterweight against some of the more toxic forces on X.

Social Media Bots Toxify Online Discourse

In a 2022 study  of racism on X, researchers observed that bots amplified levels of hate speech, at times even eclipsing humans as the primary source of racist comments.

By assigning a “hate score” to individual X posts, the study discovered that not only did bots increase the volume of offensive content, they also dialed up the vitriol, generating more loathsome posts than human users.

X bots hate speech
Source: Social Media + Society
July-September 2022.

Commenting on the surge of racist posts targeted toward Chinese people during the COVID-19 pandemic, the researchers concluded that X bots successfully automated the work of malicious information campaigns seeking to exploit societal tensions:

“From this standpoint, the online world acts not only as a mirror of offline contentions but also as a space in which they can be exacerbated or transformed.”

Deepfake Bots Surge in Election Year

Ukraine’s national security advisor, Oleksiy Danilov, recently claimed that just a few Russian agents can now create hundreds of thousands of fake social media accounts using generative AI.

“Artificial intelligence is a huge step forward for Russia,” he said, adding that it makes the impact of the state’s election interference campaigns “exponentially greater.”

In Ukraine, Danilov said AI-powered disinformation operations routinely disseminate up to 166 million posts every week. 

With just 6 months to go until the Presidential and Congressional elections, the impact of deepfake social media bots is already being felt in the US too.

How successful Musk’s purge will be in curbing the problem remains to be seen. Numerous X users have already reported that their follower count has declined since Thursday. Hopefully, a positive impact on the tone of online discourse will soon be felt.

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