Elon Musk is now the owner of Twitter, and LGBTQ+ and other civil rights groups are worried this means more hate speech on the platform.
The $44 billion deal closed Thursday night, and Musk, the world’s richest man, has assumed the title of “chief twit.” He has said he will reverse Twitter’s permanent ban of former President Donald Trump, and he wants to allow a variety of viewpoints on the platform — but progressive advocates say he will likely allow hateful content.
“Despite his claim that he wanted to buy Twitter to ‘help humanity,’ Elon Musk has a record of posting and defending harmful anti-LGBTQ content as well as content that harms other marginalized communities,” said a statement released Friday by GLAAD. “GLAAD remains deeply concerned about the safety of LGBTQ people on Twitter and we join other organizations that are now questioning Twitter’s future policies and actions against extremist content.”
Twitter’s moderation wasn’t great under the previous ownership, and it undoubtedly will be looser under Musk, Cathy Renna, communications director for the National LGBTQ Task Force, told The Advocate. “He has made it clear that he doesn’t have a problem bringing back the more extreme, the hatemongering viewpoints,” she said.
Indeed, Twitter has apparently undone its ban on the term “groomer” as a slur against LGBTQ+ people. Gays Against Groomers is using that name on its Twitter account again, and Libs of TikTok has tweeted the slur in capital letters. The Task Force and other organizations had signed on to a letter led by Jenni Olson of GLAAD to point out the dangers in statements made especially by Libs of TikTok, saying these statements encourage violence.
Some far-right figures who had been banned from the platform have voiced excitement over the new Twitter era, according to the group Media Matters.
Ben Decker, chief executive of Memetica, a digital monitoring company, tweeted that over the last few days there has been a marked increase in right-wing accounts.
"The rapid follower growth of influential right-wing accounts is a clear canary in the coal mine of what’s likely to come next," Decker wrote.
He also noted research from his company that found that new accounts were following right-wing users such as Congresswoman Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, and commentator Candace Owens.
Musk tweeted Friday that he would form a “content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints” and that “no major content decisions or account reinstatements will happen before that council convenes.”
He calls himself a “free-speech absolutist,” but a corporation’s monitoring of speech doesn’t violate the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech — it’s government censorship that runs afoul of that.
“We are very concerned about Elon Musk's acquisition of Twitter,” said a statement from Jay Brown, senior vice president of programs, research, and training at the Human Rights Campaign. “Musk has pledged to restore the accounts of dangerous people who push extremism and disinformation. When this happens, Twitter — a place where many marginalized people, including LGBTQ+ people, find both community and face an onslaught of hate — will quickly become even more hostile. Adding insult to injury, Musk’s reported plans to cut staff levels — including employees who provide moderation — are deeply troubling.
“As a company, Twitter has a right, and a responsibility, to keep its platform from being exploited to fuel a dangerous media environment. This isn’t about censorship or discrimination of ideas — it is about what kind of company they want to be and what kind of world they want to shape.”
Activists have been voicing concern about Musk’s purchase of Twitter for several months. GLAAD is one of the founding members of the Stop the Deal coalition, launched in June with Accountable Tech, Media Matters for America, MoveOn, UltraViolet, and others. The coalition released a statement Friday, saying, “Elon Musk’s plans for Twitter will make it an even more hate-filled cesspool, leading to irreparable real-world harm. Musk’s plans will leave the platform more vulnerable to security threats, rampant disinformation, and extremism just ahead of the midterm elections. Elon Musk has a thirst for chaos and utter disregard for anyone other than himself and should not own Twitter.”
The group added, “In the last few weeks Musk has waded into foreign diplomacy — including parroting Kremlin talking points about their invasion into Ukraine. He is accepting financing from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud and the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar — two countries run by repressive regimes. Elon Musk owning one of the world’s most powerful communication platforms is dangerous for us all. As Musk runs Twitter to the ground, let this serve as a warning to other platforms that they will be held accountable for ignoring public safety and dismantling the guardrails designed to protect our information ecosystem.”
Musk, the CEO of Tesla Inc. and SpaceX, recently said “communism” is being taught in elite colleges and universities and blamed it for his estrangement from his transgender daughter, Vivian Jenna Wilson. And workers at Tesla have accused the company of racial and anti-LGBTQ+ harassment.
What should those who oppose hate speech do now? Not simply monitor Twitter but use their own platforms to speak out and hold Musk accountable, Renna said.
“This is a matter of not just moderating and watching but being engaged,” she said.