Elon Musk accuses BBC reporter of lying over hate speech on Twitter

‘You don’t know what you are talking about’: Elon Musk accuses BBC reporter of lying over whether hate speech is on the rise on Twitter – but still agrees to corporation’s demands to remove ‘government-funded media’ label from its account

  • Elon Musk was questioned by BBC’s James Clayton over rising harmful content
  • Mr Musk said reporter was ‘lying’ after he failed to give examples of such posts

Twitter owner Elon Musk has accused a BBC reporter of lying during an interview in a row over whether incidents of hate speech are increasing on the social network.

Mr Musk was asked by US tech journalist James Clayton how he would respond to claims that there are not enough staff at Twitter to police rising hateful content.

But he challenged the reporter to give him examples of such content – and when Mr Clayton declined to do so, Mr Musk accused him of spreading a ‘false’ claim.

During a wide-ranging discussion at Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco, Mr Musk also said that Twitter had ‘four months to live’ when he bought the firm.

He insisted it needed to cut costs to save it from bankruptcy and confirmed that about 80 per cent of its staff have been axed since he took over last October.

Elon Musk carried out the a wide-ranging interview at Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco

Twitter owner Elon Musk (left) gave an interview to the BBC’s US tech journalist James Clayton

Speaking during the chat, Mr Clayton asked Mr Musk: ‘We’ve spoken to people very recently who were involved in moderation and they just say there’s not enough people to police this stuff, particularly around hate speech in the company. Is that something that you want to address?’

At a glance: What Elon Musk said in BBC chat 

  • Elon Musk said the BBC’s label on its @BBC Twitter account would be changed from ‘state-funded’ to ‘publicly funded’. The broadcaster objected to the tag after it appeared earlier this week.
  • Twitter receives some 8 billion user minutes each day. Mr Musk said ‘usage is up’.
  • Mr Musk claimed there was less misinformation on Twitter since his takeover. This is contrary to other reports that say hate speech has risen on the platform in recent months.
  • Weighing in on the TikTok debate, Mr Musk said he was generally against banning things.
  • Mr Musk admitted Twitter was ‘roughly breaking even’ and could be profitable this quarter.
  • He said he would not likely accept a $44billion offer to buy Twitter at the moment. He said it ‘depends on who’.
  • Mr Musk said cutting Twitter’s workforce from 8,000 to around 1,5000 had not been easy.

Mr Musk replied: ‘What hate speech are you talking about? I mean, you use Twitter. Do you see a rise in hate speech? Just a personal anecdote? I don’t.’

And Mr Clayton said: ‘Personally, for you, I would say I get more of that kind of content, yeah, personally. But I’m not going to talk for the rest of Twitter.’

Mr Musk then asked him to ‘describe a hateful thing’, and Mr Clayton said: ‘Well, yeah, you know, content that would solicit a reaction, something that is slightly racist, slightly sexist.’

Mr Musk then asked Mr Clayton whether he thinks that ‘if something is slightly sexist it should be banned.’ Mr Clayton denied this was the case, but Mr Musk pressed him to give specific examples.

Mr Clayton then said: ‘Honestly, I don’t… I don’t actually use that feed anymore because I just don’t particularly like it. And actually a lot of people are quite similar. I only look at my followers.’

The Twitter owner said: ‘I’m asking for one example and you can’t give a single one…. I say sir that you don’t know what you are talking about.

‘You cannot give me a single example of hateful content, not even one tweet. And yet you claimed that hateful content was high. That is false, you just lied.’

But Mr Clayton said there were ‘many organisations’ that would say hateful posts on Twitter were on the rise, such as the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, before moving on to discuss Covid misinformation.

MailOnline has contacted the BBC to establish whether it will be responding to Mr Musk’s claims that Mr Clayton lied. 

Also during the interview, Mr Musk said the social media platform was ‘spending money like it’s out of fashion’ before he stepped in.

Asked whether his approach to sacking staff members was ‘haphazard and uncaring’, Mr Musk replied: ‘I wouldn’t say it was uncaring.

The Twitter headquarters in San Francisco, where the interview with the BBC was carried out

‘The issue is, the company is going to go bankrupt if we do not cut costs immediately. This is not a caring, uncaring situation. If the whole ship sinks, then nobody’s got a job.’

READ MORE — Elon Musk claims Twitter is breaking even and blue ticks will be gone next week


There was a $3billion (£2.4billion) ‘negative cash flow situation’, he said, which left Twitter with ‘four months to live’.

As a result, thousands of employees across the business have been sacked since he bought the platform for $44billion (£35.7 billion) in October.

There are now around 1,500 staff members, from just under 8,000 when Mr Musk took over, the boss confirmed.

The Tesla and SpaceX boss was criticised for cutting half the company’s full-time staff in one week, ending remote working and setting an ultimatum for remaining staff to agree to longer, more intense working patterns or leave.

It also led to concerns that the platform could struggle to survive with the reduced maintenance team and available engineers.

Mr Musk admitted today that shutting down one of Twitter’s service centres had ended up being ‘quite catastrophic’ as it resulted in the platform losing a large amount of its functionality.

But he said that Twitter was now ‘roughly breaking even’ and could be profitable again soon.

He added: ‘Depending on how things go, if current trends continue, I think we could be profitable, or to be more precise, cash flow positive this quarter if things keep going well.

‘I think almost all advertisers have come back or said they are going to come back. There’s very few exceptions.’

READ MORE — Elon Musk says Twitter will update ‘government-funded media’ BBC tag


Following his takeover of the platform, many advertisers paused work with the site over concerns about Mr Musk’s approach to content and moderation.

He also revealed legacy blue checkmarks will finally be removed by next week.

Mr Musk said last month that legacy-verified Twitter users would see their blue ticks removed from the service on April 1, unless they paid a monthly fee of $8 (£6.40) to its Twitter Blue subscription operation.

As a result, thousands of the platform’s high-profile users were braced to lose the ticks, which can help verify their identity and distinguish them from imposters.

But the legacy blue ticks have remained in place past the original deadline of April 1.

Furthermore, Mr Musk said the social media site will update the BBC’s ‘government-funded media’ tag after the broadcaster objected to the label.

The BBC contacted Twitter last week after the designation was attached to the main @BBC account.

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