February 6, 2023

Since Elon Musk bought Twitter in October, the self-described “free speech absolutist” has passed the company’s moderation policies with ease.

He initially thought the ban should reserved for spam accountsdedication “amnesty” Thousands of suspended users and reinstated former President Donald J. Trump. Last week, he suspended several journalists, claiming they had shared public flight data, revealing his private location. (Many bans were later reversed.)

To gauge how Mr. Musk’s content decisions affected Twitter’s content, The New York Times analyzed tweets from more than 1,000 users whose accounts had recently been restored.These posts were collected for The Times bright dataa social media tracking company, used a list of recovered users identified by Travis Brown, a Berlin-based software developer who had tracked extremism on Twitter.

Most of the recovered accounts are strongly partisan — often outspoken supporters of Mr. Trump — who appear eager to bring their fiery rhetoric back to the social network. It’s not clear from the data why users were initially suspended or why they were reinstated, though their post history suggests many were banned as Twitter cracks down on Covid-19 and election-related misinformation.

Imran Ahmed, founder and chief executive of the Center to Combat Digital Hate, said Mr Musk’s message to previously deactivated users was clear: “‘Welcome back, welcome home.'”

Twitter and Musk did not respond to requests for comment.

“Finally got this account back after getting banned for being a #Republican, thanks @elonmusk,” one user tweeted. Just 10 minutes later, the same person wrote: “Joe Biden is an illegitimate president , the 2020 election was stolen.”

Here are some of the things those users said on Twitter after their return.

Amid the pandemic, Twitter rolled out a policy against misinformation about the virus, suspending more than 11,000 accounts, including many well-known users, after they spread lies.But in November, after Mr. Musk took over the company, Twitter said it would no longer enforce this policy.

Several recovered users who were banned after the Covid-19 policy went into effect started posting again about the virus and its vaccine. Some have questioned the effectiveness of vaccines, or suggested that they kill people without evidence.

Some posts referred to “Sudden Death,” a misleading documentary released this year that claimed people were dying from vaccines. Others shared unsubstantiated anecdotes of their own.

“If you’ve seen Sudden Death, here’s more solid evidence,” one user tweeted, adding a link to a website called “Covid Jab Side Effects.” Before being banned in January 2021, the user had made numerous posts about Covid-19, including posts that the virus was not dangerous.

Twitter cracks down on election fraud conspiracy theories after 2020 election, Suspend thousands of accounts This has fueled false and misleading views about the election outcome. Hundreds of users have returned to Twitter to push these ideas again.

Many reverting users focused on close midterm races, including the gubernatorial race in Arizona and the Senate race in Pennsylvania. The Republican candidate for governor of Arizona, Carrie Lake, lost the race but refused to concede, citing problems with the voting process and claims of fraud. Many recovery users echoed her thoughts.

The tweets repeated lies and conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, including that voting machines were rigged to influence the outcome.

“Voters, not voting machines, used to decide Arizona elections,” tweeted one reverted user. “That’s no longer the case.”

Online conspiracy theory QAnon appears to have peaked on January 6, 2021, when hundreds of Mr Trump supporters stormed the Capitol. Twitter subsequently suspended more than 70,000 accounts linked to the group. But many of the movement’s core ideas continue to play a significant role in the far-right imagination.

On Twitter, rehabilitated users returned to familiar themes from the QAnon saga, questioning prominent Democrats and their ties to Jeffrey Epstein, the former financier , accused of child trafficking, was at the center of the QAnon conspiracy.

They claim, without evidence, that Democrats and Hollywood celebrities are involved in widespread sex trafficking and pedophilia. They also repeatedly claimed that liberals were “bringing up” children through drag shows and sex education.

“After 2 years of being permanently disabled, I just reinstated today,” wrote a reinstated user with “QAnon” in their username. “I guess I should thank the new owner, thank you Elon Musk.”

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