Twitter owner Elon Musk said Monday that the platform suffers from a “ridiculous” number of professional psychological operations (or, “psy ops”), a concept that typically refers to the dissemination of propaganda or, when used by state actors like the military, psychological warfare tactics meant to manipulate one’s enemies.
“The amount of pro psy ops on Twitter is ridiculous!” Musk wrote in a post on Twitter.
He added jokingly that “at least with new Verified, they will pay $8 for the privilege—haha.”
Musk later qualified his statement, responding to a Twitter user’s comment that the psychological operations are “mid”-level rather than professional. Musk conceded that “it’s mostly basic.”
While it’s not clear what, specifically, Musk was referring to in his post on the prevalence of “pro psy ops,” Twitter has, in the past, struggled to deal with foreign state-linked information operations on the platform, including activity it has deemed malicious.
‘Foreign Interference in Political Conversations’
In 2018, Twitter stated in a blog post that it had identified thousands of accounts that made more than 10 million tweets associated with “foreign interference in political conversations” on the platform.
“It is clear that information operations and coordinated inauthentic behavior will not cease. These types of tactics have been around for far longer than Twitter has existed—they will adapt and change as the geopolitical terrain evolves worldwide and as new technologies emerge,” the company said at the time.
Later, in December 2021, Twitter announced it had removed more than 3,000 accounts that were operating as foreign state-linked information operations, including from China, Russia, and Venezuela.
Twitter said that, in most cases, the accounts were suspended for various violations of its platform manipulation and spam policies, which include prohibitions against using Twitter in ways that “artificially amplify or suppress information or engage in behavior that manipulates or disrupts people’s experience” on the platform.
Prohibited actions include artificially inflating followers or engagement by, for instance, buying “likes” or coordinating to exchange “follows,” in what’s known as “reciprocal inflation.”
‘Widely Diverse Viewpoints’
The company also said it would launch the Twitter Moderation Research Consortium (TMRC), a program that lets outside researchers tap into Twitter data to study trends and study platform governance issues.
While there have been questions about the fate of the research consortium since Musk took over Twitter in late October, he later announced he was ordering the establishment of a “content moderation council” that would represent “widely diverse viewpoints.”
Musk, who has labeled himself as a “free-speech absolutist,” has vowed to make the platform more welcoming to various viewpoints while insisting he wouldn’t allow it to become a “free-for-all hellscape.”
At the time, former President Donald Trump praised Musk for succeeding with his takeover bid of Twitter and praised the tech mogul’s moves to open Twitter up to diverse views.
“I am very happy that Twitter is now in sane hands, and will no longer be run by Radical Left Lunatics and Maniacs that truly hate our country,” Trump said in post on Truth Social, though he indicated that he might not return to Twitter even if Musk were to reinstate his account, which at the time was suspended.
Musk has since restored Trump’s account on Twitter, along with a series of other banned accounts, including that of satirical site Babylon Bee and Jordan Peterson, a prominent professor of psychology.
Trump hasn’t posted anything on Twitter since his account was reinstated, with his last post being from Jan. 8, 2021, when the former president said he wouldn’t be going to the presidential inauguration of Joe Biden.
Musk said recently he’s “fine” with Trump not posting on Twitter, adding that the social media giant had made a “grave mistake” when it banned the former president from the platform.
“Deplatforming a sitting president undermined public trust in Twitter for half of America,” Musk said.
Since Musk took over Twitter, he has vowed to reduce the number of bots on the platform and curb inauthentic activity.
Twitter paused its recently announced $8 verified blue check subscription service after a wave of blue check accounts appeared on the platform, impersonating big brands and making embarrassing posts.
Musk said recently that the verified check service would be returning on Dec. 2, adding that Twitter would also be rolling out gold and gray checks in addition to blue ones, and that all verified marks would be manually authenticated.