Fact Check: Elon Musk's Twitter Takeover Did NOT Trigger Removal Of 44,000 Child Sexual Exploitation Pages 'In Just India Alone'

Fact Check

  • by: Uliana Malashenko
Fact Check: Elon Musk's Twitter Takeover Did NOT Trigger Removal Of 44,000 Child Sexual Exploitation Pages 'In Just India Alone' Misread Data

Did Twitter remove "over 44,000 Twitter pages involved with child sexual exploitation -- in just India alone" since Elon Musk took over the company? No, that's not true: Such large numbers came from global totals, not from India alone. Also, while the implication in the post is that such numbers began with Musk's takeover of Twitter, available information shows it was not rare for Twitter to delete more accounts in the category of child sexual abuse in months before the beginning of Musk's tenure.

The claim originated from a tweet published on December 20, 2022 (archived here), which opened:

Since @elonmusk took over Twitter, he's already removed over 44,000 Twitter pages involved with child sexual exploitation--in just India alone.
What has really been going on behind the scenes at Twitter? Why was the situation allowed to get this out of control in the first place?

This is what the post looked like on Twitter at the time of writing:

Screen Shot 2022-12-22 at 11.10.21 AM.png

(Source: Twitter screenshot taken on Thu Dec 22 16:10:21 2022 UTC)

The claim was previously promoted by Indian news websites on December 1, 2022 (for example, here and here). Its variation (for example, here and here) suggested that the company removed 44,000 accounts "in one day."

But both takes appear to be based on misread data.

Transparency reports Twitter publishes in India list the global totals of accounts removed due to company monitoring but do not break them down by country. These reports also contain information on suspensions initiated by local Indian courts, but those numbers rarely reach a three-digit figure per category within a one-month cycle.

The most recent Twitter report for India covers the period between October 26, 2022 and November 25, 2022. Musk's tenure as CEO began on October 28, 2022, following months of negotiations.

The India-specific data from the grievance officer "includes complaints received from individual users with accompanying court orders." However, it is not entirely clear whether this section is limited to those with court orders or not. For the said period, the report shows no removed links or accounts associated with child sexual exploitation:

Screen Shot 2022-12-22 at 11.45.09 AM.png

(Source: Transparency.Twitter.com screenshot taken on Thu Dec 22 14:20:24 2022 UTC)

The same report takes a much broader approach with other data that includes child sexual exploitation.

The report does not show India-specific data on that, but it shows a global total of 45,589 accounts that were suspended for "child sexual exploitation, non-consensual nudity, and similar content." There is a footnote with that number:

This data represents global actions taken, and not just actions related to content from India

Screen Shot 2022-12-22 at 4.47.32 PM.png

(Source: Transparency.Twitter.com screenshot taken on Thu Dec 22 21:47:32 2022 UTC)

Unlike the India-specific data, which is based on "complaints received from individual users with accompanying court orders," Twitter writes that "a vast majority of all accounts that are suspended for the promotion of terrorism and child sexual exploitation are proactively flagged by a combination of technology and other purpose-built internal proprietary tools." In other words, from internal monitoring instead of user complaints.

A previous report, covering the period from September 26, 2022, to October 25, 2022, shortly before Musk's takeover, follows the same structure: the India-specific data from the grievance officer and global total for "proactive monitoring data." These sections, respectively, show zero India-specific links Twitter acted on as a result of complaints regarding child sexual exploitation and 44,611 accounts that were deleted globally in the category that includes child sexual exploitation, along with "non-consenual nudity and similar content."

Between August 26, 2022, and September 25, 2022, Twitter suspended 52,141 accounts in this category worldwide, and between July 25, 2022, and August 25, 2022, that number reached 57,643.

The available data does not support the idea that Twitter under Musk is significantly more effective at removing the content associated with child sexual exploitation than before he took over the company.

Such reports are not available for all countries, but in India, Twitter must publish them to comply with local laws.

Other Lead Stories fact checks about Twitter can be found here, here, here and here.

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  Uliana Malashenko

Uliana Malashenko is a New York-based freelance writer and fact checker.

Read more about or contact Uliana Malashenko

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