Elon Musk purports to have run a crusade against child sexual-abuse material on Twitter, but researchers say it’s still spreading like wildfire on the platform, likely because so many content moderators have been laid off.

Even before he took over as Chief Twit at Twitter, Elon Musk had a track record of baselessly accusing his critics of being pedophiles. And that’s consistent with Musk’s right-wing turn, as today’s conservative movement loves to label opponents as “groomers,” perhaps to make themselves feel better about electing a child molester as Speaker of the House of Representatives, having a sitting GOP congressman being under investigation for soliciting underage sex, or the conservative movement’s complete silence over the Catholic Church and Southern Baptist Church abuse scandals.  

Musk claimed in November that “Removing child exploitation is priority #1” on the platform, of course responding to a tweet that baselessly tied child sexual abuse material to Antifa. But in reality, both independent researchers and the New York Times have found that child sexual abuse material is spreading rampantly on Musk’s Twitter, and with the small remaining post-layoff skeleton crew taking far longer to respond to requests to remove said material.

To be fair, it’s a problem many tech platforms have had for years. But Twitter is unique in that its response has slowed since, you know, a certain executive took over.  

The New York Times explains their investigation as such: “The Times created an individual Twitter account and wrote an automated computer program that could scour the platform for the content without displaying the actual images, which are illegal to view. The material wasn’t difficult to find. In fact, Twitter helped promote it through its recommendation algorithm — a feature that suggests accounts to follow based on user activity.”

The Times cites numerous stomach-churning examples of what they saw, and you’re free to read them. We will cite the detail that the Times found “One account in late December offered a discounted 'Christmas pack' of photos and videos” of child sexual abuse material.

And Twitter is clearly responding more slowly since the layoffs, which gutted the company’s Trust & Safety Team. "Late last year, the company’s response time was more than double what it had been during the same period a year earlier under the prior ownership, even though the center sent it fewer alerts,” The Times reports. “In December 2021, Twitter took an average of 1.6 days to respond to 98 notices; last December, after Mr. Musk took over the company, it took 3.5 days to respond to 55.”

The Times adds that “By January, it had greatly improved, taking 1.3 days to respond to 82.” That’s improvement, but still not what response times were prior to the Musk regime. And the Canadian Center for Child Protection notes it often takes up to a week for Musk’s Twitter to remove the material, and even when they keep asking for the removal on a daily basis.

It’s easy to surmise why this is happening. “After Mr. Musk took the reins in late October, Twitter largely eliminated or lost staff experienced with the problem and failed to prevent the spread of abusive images previously identified by the authorities,” according to the Times. “Twitter also stopped paying for some detection software considered key to its efforts.”

So some of this can be linked to Twitter not paying its bills under Musk’s new ownership. And we will admit to some peanut gallery entertainment value over the billionaire Musk not paying his bills.

But as we see in this case, there is a very ugly underbelly that comes with Musk’s skinflint antics  of trying to keep this platform running on the cheap.  

Related: After Layoffs and Resignations on Trust & Safety Team, Twitter Faces Challenge With Chinese Propaganda, Protests [SFist]

Top Image: SAN FRANCISCO, CA - NOVEMBER 04: Twitter headquarters stands on Market Street on November 4, 2022 in San Francisco, California. Twitter Inc reportedly began laying off employees across its departments on Friday as new owner Elon Musk is reportedly looking to cut around half of the company's workforce. (Photo by David Odisho/Getty Images)