Despite public statements in support of free speech, censorship on Twitter has surprisingly increased since billionaire Elon Musk purchased the platform according to data from MRC Free Speech America's CensorTrack.org database. MRC Free Speech America found that Twitter censorship has been on the rise under Musk's leadership in comparison to the old regime. Musk once tweeted that he saw Twitter as the “de facto town square” and wrote that “failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy.” It appears that a lot of work needs to be done to achieve Musk’s vision.
Here are MRC Free Speech America’s findings:
- Twitter censorship has been on the rise under Elon Musk. MRC Free Speech America found 293 cases of documented censorship since Musk took control of the platform and began terminating the previous regime’s employees from Nov. 4, 2022 through Mar. 4, 2023. That’s 67 more than the 226 documented cases in CensorTrack.org from the old regime during the same time period a year prior (Nov. 4, 2021 - Mar. 4, 2022).
- The severity of the censorship since Musk took over has been harsher. In 245 of the 293 (84%) documented cases of censorship on CensorTrack.org, Twitter locked users’ accounts, and in nearly all cases users were required to delete the content to regain access to their accounts. Under the old Twitter regime, by contrast, only 136 of the 226 (60%) documented cases of censorship consisted of locked accounts.
- The previous Twitter regime targeted the biggest, most politically sensitive user accounts. However, Musk’s moves that led to the firing and resignation of key leaders in the elitist team in charge of the effort to target high follower accounts has not resulted in a reduction of censorship practices by the remaining rank-and-file staff involved in content moderation. The implication? The remaining staff at Twitter are revolting against Musk’s efforts to foster a free speech environment on the platform. Some high-profile users censored under the old regime during the analyzed period included Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), conservative radio host Dan Bongino, Just the News founder John Solomon, and the American Heart Association.
- Sixty-two percent of documented cases of censorship during Musk’s leadership involved tweets critical of the left’s transgender narrative. At least 182 of the 293 (62%) documented cases of censorship recorded in the CensorTrack.org database for Twitter under Musk involved users being censored for speech critical of the left’s woke “transgender” narrative. Twitter’s censorship on this issue stands in stark contrast to the theorized pretext for Musk launching his $44 billion bid to acquire the platform.
- The Babylon Bee CEO Seth Dillon shared in a tweet that “Musk reached out to us before he polled his followers about Twitter’s commitment to free speech. He wanted to confirm that we had, in fact, been suspended. He even mused on the call that he might need to buy Twitter. Now he’s the largest shareholder and has a seat on the board.” The Babylon Bee was banned under the previous regime for a humorous tweet declaring transgender Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine its “Man of the Year” in 2022.
STUDY: Twitter Censorship Shockingly on Rise After Elon Musk Takeover
Twitter owner Elon Musk sent an email to staff stating that the value of the Big Tech platform was worth $20 billion, which is just around half of the amount he paid for it. But Twitter 2.0’s value as the new free speech haven also ended up plunging like a bad stock market bet. A new MRC Free Speech America study using CensorTrack.org data shows that censorship on Twitter 2.0 has surprisingly gotten worse.
MRC Free Speech America staff tallied the number of logged Twitter censorship entries between Nov. 4, 2022 — around the time Musk began mass layoffs of leftist employees held over from the old regime — and Mar. 4, 2023. Also tallied was the total number of logged Twitter censorship cases from the same time period beginning the prior year: Nov. 4, 2021 to Mar. 4, 2022. The results were revealing. MRC Free Speech America tallied 293 logged censorship cases under Musk’s time as owner, which is 67 cases more than the 226 entries tallied from the old regime. Twitter has to do better if Twitter 2.0 is to be the “digital town square” and “free speech” haven owner Musk has said it should be.
The severity of the censorship since Musk took over has been harsher. In 245 of the 293 (84%) documented cases of censorship on CensorTrack.org, Twitter locked users’ accounts, and in nearly all cases users were required to delete the content to regain access to their accounts. Under the old Twitter regime, by contrast, only 136 of the 226 (60%) documented cases of censorship consisted of locked accounts.
Self-described "conservative Christian rapper" Bryson Gray's account was suspended Dec. 11, 2022, for allegedly "violating [its] rules against hateful conduct," according to screenshots tweeted by online streamer Ethan Ralph. Gray reportedly told Blaze Media that he thought his account was “permanently suspended” for calling Elton John gay. “‘I think I got banned because I called Elton John gay, which would be weird for obvious reasons,’" Gray said. Twitter reinstated Gray's account by December 13.
Live Action President Lila Rose was suspended from Twitter March 2023 without explanation. Live Action tweeted at the time: "Breaking: Our president @LilaGraceRose's account has just been suspended & apparently deleted without explanation or notification. What's going on @TwitterSupport @Twitter?" It is unclear what prompted the suspension. Twitter restored the account the following day. Rose said she received an email from Twitter saying the platform had unsuspended the account "'as it does not appear to be in violation of the Twitter rules.'" Twitter did not respond to MRC Free Speech America's request for comment by the time the CensorTrack.org entry was logged.
Musk’s Twitter locked Twitter account @thebradfordfile on Dec. 22, 2022 without providing a specific reason for the censorship, according to a purported screenshot. Twitter claimed that the account violated Twitter’s Rules. It is unclear how the account violated Twitter's policies. The platform locked the account for 12 hours.
Additionally, the uptick in documented censorship cases under Musk is more heavily weighted toward accounts with fewer followers compared to the the previous Twitter regime. The Twitter Files unveiled the platform’s censorship cabal — the Site Integrity Policy, Policy Escalation Support (SIP-PES) team — that included former Twitter General Counsel Vijaya Gadde, ex-Global Head of Trust and Safety Yoel Roth and former Twitter CEOs Jack Dorsey and Parag Agrawal. This cabal was where the “the biggest, most politically sensitive decisions got made,” said Twitter Files journalist Bari Weiss. Musk fired both Agrawal and Gadde. Roth, whose role at Twitter served as the epicenter of Twitter’s decision to censor the Hunter Biden laptop bombshell prior to the 2020 election, later resigned. Dorsey stepped down from his role as CEO in November 2021.
While the departure of Roth, Gadde, Agrawal and Dorsey appears to have helped Musk reduce the censorship of larger accounts, some believe that the censorship culture they fomented in the elitist SIP-PES has only grown stronger among the rank-and-file Twitter staff who are still moderating user content.
“Based on our analysis it is clear that there is an internal revolt going on among the woke staff at Twitter. I’m sure they don’t like that their new boss has dissolved the high-level censorship team, but Musk’s actions appear to have motivated the remaining staff to be even more aggressive toward regular conservatives on the platform. They are undercutting Musk’s plan to foster a free speech environment on the platform,” MRC Vice President for Free Speech Dan Schneider said. “Musk has a good history of fixing problems that are brought to his attention. But it is clear that the censorship police are still on the beat at Twitter. Musk still has a lot more housekeeping ahead of him.”
Some high-profile users censored under the old regime during the analyzed period included Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), conservative radio host Dan Bongino and Just the News founder John Solomon.
Johnson was censored by Twitter Jan. 3, 2022 for tweeting graphics comparing the recorded cases of adverse reactions between COVID-19 vaccines and other treatments like Ivermectin and Hydroxychloroquine. Twitter slapped a sharing restriction on Johnson’s tweet, which harmed his 290,300 followers at the time by preventing them from liking, commenting or retweeting it. Twitter only allowed users to quote-tweet Johnson. Twitter, in effect, prevented an elected official from being able to communicate freely with the public.
Bongino found himself on the receiving end of Twitter censors Jan. 28, 2022 when the platform suppressed searches for his verified account. Users who searched Bongino's name or Twitter handle using the platform's Explore feature were not able to find his verified account in the search results. This act harmed Bongino’s 2,400,000 followers at the time by preventing them from being able to easily access his viewpoints on important policy issues.
Twitter suspended Solomon for daring to commit journalism on Dec. 29, 2021. Just the News released a statement Dec. 28 noting that Solomon was suspended from the leftist Big Tech platform “for sharing an article about the legal distinctions between Pfizer's fully approved and emergency use authorization (EUA) COVID-19 vaccines.” The distinction “could affect the legality of vaccine mandates.” Twitter slapped the article Solomon attempted to share with a “Warning: this link may be unsafe” label and propagandized that it “could lead to real-world harm.” Solomon also slammed Twitter for the censorship: “‘It is outrageous and unfair that a story that is completely accurate and points out an important legal distinction between the two versions of vaccines gets blocked and my account suspended.’” Twitter’s actions constituted harm to Solomon’s 876,000 followers at the time by preventing them from seeing journalism that doesn’t comport with the government and Big Pharma narratives.
But the comparison between Twitter 2.0 and the old Twitter regime gets even more strange when considering the kind of content that was censored under Musk.
Sixty-two percent of documented cases of censorship during Musk’s leadership involved tweets critical of the left’s transgender narrative. At least 182 of the 293 (62%) documented cases of censorship on the platform under Musk involved users being censored for speech critical of woke “transgenderism.” The total number of documented censorship cases dealing with “transgenderism” under Twitter’s old regime amounted to just 24.
This doesn’t appear consistent with the theorized pretext for why Musk bought Twitter in the first place.
Musk launched his $44 billion bid to acquire Twitter after satire site The Babylon Bee was banned March 20 for a humorous tweet declaring transgender Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine its “Man of the Year” in 2022. Apparently, Twitter 2.0 hasn’t done much to rectify this problem. Since this censorship case occurred outside of the analyzed time period for MRC’s CensorTrack study for the old Twitter regime (Nov. 4, 2021 - March 4, 2022), The Babylon Bee’s “Man of the Year” censorship was not included in the overall tally. In addition, the MRC and other users like Federalist CEO Sean Davis and The Daily Wire podcast host Michael Knowles were recently locked out of their accounts for reporting on the infamous “Trans Day of Vengeance” protest organized by Our Rights DC set to happen between March 31 and April 2. Since these cases of censorship occurred outside of the analyzed period, they also were excluded from MRC Free Speech America’s tally.
In one particular censorship case involving criticism of “transgenderism” during the analyzed period of Musk’s leadership, a user tweeted: "Man and woman are defined by biology. XY sex chromosomes = man. XX sex chromosomes = woman. Transgender is a mental disorder known as gender dysphoria. It should be treated by a psychiatrist, not a surgeon." Twitter claimed this violated its rules against “hateful conduct.” The user’s account was locked until he deleted the tweet.
Even Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) ran afoul of Twitter’s rules under Musk. On Jan. 2, 2023, Greene tweeted about legislation she proposed before Congress regarding the medical transition of children. Greene stated in her tweet: "Congress must pass my bill, the Protect Children’s Innocence Act to stop the medical expiration and genital mutilation of children. Kids who aren’t old enough to vote, get a tattoo, or buy alcohol & tobacco shouldn’t be manipulated into permanently disfiguring their bodies." The tweet was a quote tweet of a tweet by the account known as "Billboard Chris." Billboard Chris had tweeted at the time: "Here’s what boys at @BostonChildrens can expect before inverting their penis into a neovagina which will need to be dilated for the rest of their life.”
Twitter placed a sensitive content filter over Greene's tweet. When viewed on the desktop version, only the Billboard Chris tweet was covered, and users could click to view what Twitter hid under the interstitial. However, when viewed on the Twitter app, Greene's entire tweet was also covered by the interstitial and users were unable to click to view the tweet.
Since Musk has acquired the platform, however, he has done the world a great service through his transparency on The Twitter Files. The Twitter Files exposed the extent to which the federal government appeared to collude with Twitter through the backdoor to censor objectionable speech under the old regime, which Americans would probably never have been made aware of had it not been for Musk’s $44 billion bid. Musk has even gone as far as to unsuspend numerous formerly banned Twitter accounts, such as the account of former President Donald Trump. What the CensorTrack data show is that Musk certainly has his work cut out for him if Twitter is going to be the haven for free speech online he says it should be.
“Musk has put a lot on the line to open things up so there's more freedom to speak on Twitter,” said The Babylon Bee CEO Seth Dillon. “He's also personally involved himself in the restoration of a large number of conservative accounts that were suspended without justification, including ours. And I've seen him move quickly to resolve mistakes that have been made since he took over. So I think it's clear he's actively working on the problem and the goal — the reason he bought Twitter in the first place — is still in view.”
The Babylon Bee is a member of the Free Speech Alliance led by the Media Research Center.
METHODOLOGY: MRC Free Speech America staff analyzed all documented CensorTrack entries of Twitter censorship between Nov. 4, 2022 - Mar. 4, 2023 and between Nov. 4, 2021 - Mar. 4, 2022 in order to conduct a reasonable comparative analysis on the state of censorship under Musk and the old Twitter regime. Staff also tallied the secondhand censorship harm based on the follower counts of all tallied users who were censored between the two time periods analyzed.
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