Hundreds of profiles belonging to the “very worst” trolls previously banned from Twitter have attempted to return to the site following Elon Musk’s takeover bid.
According to an international network of volunteers cited by the PA news agency there has been a recent surge in activity among deplatformed hate groups.
“The very worst people on the internet are obviously quite excited about the opportunities of Elon Musk‘s Twitter,” said Sunder Katwala, the director of independent think tank British Future.
Mr Katwala has been working with the volunteer network since he was targeted by a Twitter troll who had previously been banned for racist abuse targeting England footballers.
He told PA that the apparent excitement among these trolls appeared to be “at least a bit premature” as Mr Musk doesn’t yet own the platform.
“We don’t yet know exactly what he will do when he does. The rules on Twitter are the same as they were, and the enforcement the same,” he added.
“But there’s obviously a great deal of excitement, a bit of a party atmosphere amongst the very worst people on the internet. I think that’s potentially a problem.”
The volunteers – which report recreated accounts to Twitter – are focusing on four identified hate groups which are known for advocating violence, racism and antisemitism.
They appear to be encouraged by Elon Musk’s statements in support of “free speech” on Twitter which he described as “the bedrock of a functioning democracy”.
In apparent response to some of this excitement, Mr Musk later clarified: “By ‘free speech’, I simply mean that which matches the law.
“I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law. If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect. Therefore, going beyond the law is contrary to the will of the people.”
Mr Katwala said that, by effectively pledging “if it’s legal it’s on”, Twitter under Mr Musk might run into challenges with how it handles content in jurisdictions outside of the US. Holocaust denial, for instance, is illegal in Germany but not in the US – although it is socially unacceptable.
Joe Mulhall, director of research at anti-fascism and anti-racism campaign group Hope Not Hate, told PA the mood among the far right is “hugely” concerning.
He said: “A huge chunk of people banned from Twitter previously think this is an opportunity to jump back on. Within the far right there was a lot of excitement.
“I definitely think it’s fair to say certain de-platformed individuals feel this was an opportunity to be allowed back and say what they want as a result.
“We do not know what Elon Musk’s Twitter will look like. We can only go from what he has been saying, but the things he has been saying are troubling. Regulation is the only answer.”
A spokesperson for Twitter said: “It is our top priority to keep everyone who uses Twitter safe and free from abuse.
“We acknowledge and want to reiterate our commitment to ensuring that Twitter doesn’t become a forum that facilitates abuse, and we continue to examine our own policy approaches and ways we can enforce our rules at speed and scale.
“We have clear rules in place to address threats of violence, abuse and harassment and hateful conduct.
“It is also against our rules to circumvent permanent suspension and we take action when we identify any tweets or accounts that violate the Twitter rules.”