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TWITTER: Anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech surging on platform under Elon Musk

Social media giant Twitter is failing to protect LGBTQ+ organisations and those advocating for the LGBTQ+ community from online violence and abuse, according to a new survey from Amnesty International USA, the LGBTQ+ media advocacy group GLAAD and the US LGBTQ+ advocacy organisation The Human Rights Campaign.

The survey found that harassment of LGBTQ+ activists has intensified since Elon Musk acquired Twitter last October.

In the survey, 60% of respondents reported they’d experienced an increase in abusive and hateful speech on Twitter since Musk took over as CEO. The other 40% said they’d experienced the same level of abusive and hateful speech as before. None of the respondents reported a decrease in abusive and hateful speech.

The targeted survey included 11 LGBTQ+ organisations, as well as nine high-profile LGBTQ+ individuals who advocate on LGBTQ+ issues, with the survey focusing on organisations and individuals with sizeable Twitter followings.

The survey included a series of questions asking respondents whether they had experienced a change in the frequency of hateful and abusive speech on Twitter once Musk became the company’s CEO, whether they had reported hateful and abusive speech to the company, how such hateful and abusive speech had impacted how they used the platform, and how their experience on Twitter compared to other social media platforms.

Nine of the respondents tried to report abuse to Twitter, and eight out of the nine said that Twitter took no action to mitigate or take down the reported content.

Sixty per cent the respondents said that hateful and abusive speech had impacted how they use the platform - including posting to Twitter less frequently, sharing less information regarding their work, and limiting who they interact with on the platform. This was particularly acute among activists, with eight out of nine activists reporting that harassment had affected how they use Twitter - compared to four of 11 organisations reporting the same.

Sixty-five per cent of respondents said that there is more hateful and abusive speech on Twitter compared to other platforms they use - with only 15% of respondents saying there was less hateful and abusive speech, and 20% saying the amount was roughly the same. Again, individual activists reported a more negative Twitter experience - with eight out of nine activists reporting more hateful and abusive speech on Twitter compared to other platforms, while five out of eleven organisations said the same.

Thirty per cent of respondents also reported that hateful and abusive speech had increased on other platforms (beyond Twitter) since October, while 30% (three organisations and three activists) said they have also experienced an increase in offline violence, with hateful and abusive speech, protests, threats, harassment and even violence since last October.

The survey’s snapshot of the environment facing LGBTQ+ organisations and activists comes in the wake of significant changes at Twitter, including the company firing its Global Human Rights Team and many of its Trust and Safety staff.

Michael Kleinman, Amnesty International USA’s Senior Director of Technology and Human Rights, said: 

“Twitter must do more to protect LGBTQ+ activists and organisations on the platform.

“Twitter considers itself a ‘common digital town square’, yet it’s a town square where LGBTQ+ voices are all too often shouted down and silenced by constant hateful speech and harassment.

“According to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, all companies have a responsibility to respect human rights - it’s disappointing, to say the least, to hear that the problem of hateful and abusive speech on Twitter is only getting worse.”

Kelley Robinson, President of The Human Rights Campaign, said:

“Social media’s outsized importance in our lives means that platforms like Twitter have an obligation to provide a space free from violent rhetoric and harassment - an obligation they have long ignored.

“We know from independent research that online harassment is directly linked to offline hate. And we have seen time and time again that hate allowed to fester online will, eventually, result in real-world consequences. Once again, we urge Twitter to do the right thing and provide a platform free of hate.”

A GLAAD spokesperson said:

“GLAAD remains deeply concerned about the safety of LGBTQ+ people - and all marginalised people - on Twitter.

“GLAAD’s Social Media Safety Index, released last July, gave Twitter a 48 out of a possible 100 score, and Twitter remains an unsafe place for LGBTQ+ people.

“Misinformation, disinformation and hateful content have real-world consequences, and irrevocably harm our community, period.

“All of our corporate, government and community leaders have a responsibility to facilitate education, facts and the truth, and to disempower those who actively work against those principles of democracy.”

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