Twitter is allowing some of football’s biggest stars at the World Cup to be targeted by racial slurs, and appears to have no intention of removing them.
Racist tweets targeting footballers like Marcus Rashford, Gabriel Jesus, Douglas Luiz, Jadon Sancho, Richarlison and Bukayo Saka have been allowed to remain on the platform despite being reported to Twitter almost a week ago. The accounts that posted them have not been suspended or sanctioned.
Rather than the tweets being missed by Twitter moderators, leaving the racist tweets up appears to be part of Elon Musk’s new policy on content moderation: Instead of taking action, just ignore it and it will go away eventually.
“New Twitter policy is freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach,” Musk tweeted just 24 hours before the World Cup kicked off. “Negative/hate tweets will be max deboosted & demonetized, so no ads or other revenue to Twitter.”
Musk failed to define what he views as “negative” or “hateful,” but he added that users “won’t find the tweet unless you specifically seek it out, which is no different from the rest of [the] internet.”
However, researchers from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a British nonprofit highlighting the spread of hate speech on tech platforms, were able to find 100 tweets directing racial abuse at dozens of Black footballers who’ll be playing in the World Cup.
There were tweets using the N-word, tweets featuring monkey or banana emojis, tweets telling players to “go back to” other countries, and tweets mocking players’ use of English.
While many of those tweets were posted in recent days and weeks, ahead of the World Cup, some have been allowed to fester on the platform for months, indicating that Twitter’s problem with racist abuse did not begin with Musk’s takeover. The tweets were identified and reported to Twitter last Wednesday.
The World Cup is one of the global events that drives the most engagement on Twitter, so much so that the site went offline for a period during the 2010 World Cup. As the 2022 World Cup in Qatar begins, Twitter has never been less prepared to handle the massive spikes in traffic it sees in response to goals, red cards, and offside decisions.
Musk had been in charge for just three weeks when the tournament began, and during that period, has, through mass layoffs and forced resignations, reduced Twitter’s workforce from around 7,500 to just 2,700. He had also reduced the number of people working as contractors for Twitter, many of whom worked on content moderation, removing hate speech and racist slurs.
In the days after he made those changes, Musk promised that Twitter’s “strong commitment to content moderation remains absolutely unchanged” even claiming at one point that hateful speech had declined to “below our prior norms.”
That claim was quickly debunked, however: CCDH analysis found that hate speech actually spiked significantly in the days following Musk’s takeover. Tweets and retweets mentioning the N-word appeared at triple the 2022 average, while those with anti-trans slurs were up by over 50%.
The open racist attacks on English players like Sancho, Rashford, and Saka is particularly disturbing given the racist attacks they faced on Twitter in the wake of losing the Euro Championship finals two years ago, when all three players missed penalties in the final.