LGBTQ orgs saw increase in Twitter abuse after Musk takeover

Businessman using Twitter on a mobile phone

A survey released on Thursday, Feb. 9, found that 60% of LGBTQ groups with a Twitter presence saw an increase of harassment since Elon Musk took over the social media platform.

The survey was sponsored by Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

AIUSA said the targeted survey included 11 LGBTQ organizations, as well as 9 high profile LGBTQ individuals who advocate on LGBTQ issues. The survey focused on select organizations and individuals with large Twitter followings, with 70% of respondents having at least 10,000 Twitter followers.  The goal of the survey was to take a snapshot of the environment facing LGBTQ organizations and activists 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, amongst others. 

“Twitter must do more to protect LGBTQ+ activists and organizations 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,” said Michael Kleinman, senior director of technology and human rights at Amnesty International USA.

Nine of the respondents tried to report this abuse to Twitter and most reported that Twitter took no action to mitigate or take down the reported content. 

“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,” said Kelley Robinson, president of the HRC. “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.” 

60% of all respondents said that hateful and abusive speech has impacted how they use the platform including posting to Twitter less frequently, sharing less information regarding their work, and limiting with whom they interact on the platform. This problem was particularly acute among activists, with eight of nine activists surveyed reporting that harassment impacts how they use the platform (compared to four of eleven organizations reporting the same). 

Some Illinois organizations have avoided the harassment by simply not having a presence on Twitter at all.

“I don’t believe we had much previously, most of our harassment was via email, web form submission, or Facebook,” said Gwyn Ciesla, executive director of Aurora Pride. “We currently are not active on Twitter, since December, due to Musk’s changes.”

They have kept their account, however, to prevent account poaching.

Dave Bentlin, president of Bloomington’s Prairie Pride Coalition, said the organization doesn’t have a Twitter account at all.

AIUSA said that hateful and abusive speech also seems to have become more problematic at Twitter compared to other social media platforms since Musk took over. 30% of all respondents reported that hateful and abusive speech has increased on other platforms (beyond Twitter) since October 2022, compared to 60% who reported an increase on Twitter. 30% (3 organizations and 3 activists) have also experienced an increase in offline violence, reporting more hateful and abusive speech, as well as protests, threats, harassment, and violence, since October 2022.