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9th February 2023, 17:11:41 UTC

Twitter is failing to protect LGBTQ+ organizations and individuals that advocate for members of the LGBTQ+ community from online violence and abuse, according to a new survey from Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Further, harassment of LGBTQ+ activists has intensified since Elon Musk acquired Twitter in October 2022.

All respondents reported that they have encountered hateful and abusive speech on Twitter. 60% of survey respondents reported that they had experienced an increase in abusive and hateful speech on Twitter since Elon Musk took over as CEO. The other 40% reported that they had experienced the same level of abusive and hateful speech as before. None of the survey respondents reported a decrease in abusive and hateful speech.

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.

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

“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 – 88% (eight out of nine respondents) reported that Twitter took no action to mitigate or take down the reported content.

“GLAAD remains deeply concerned about the safety of LGBTQ+ people, and all marginalized people, on Twitter. GLAAD’s Social Media Safety Index, released in 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,” said a GLAAD spokesperson.

“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 Human Rights Campaign. “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).

65% of all respondents said that there is more hateful and abusive speech on Twitter compared to other platforms they use. 15% of respondents said there was less hateful and abusive speech, and 20% said the amount of hateful and abusive speech was about the same on Twitter as compared to other platforms. Again, individual activists reported a more negative experience on Twitter, compared to organizations. Eight of nine activists reported more hateful and abusive speech on Twitter compared to other platforms, while five of eleven organizations reported the same.

Hateful and abusive speech also seems to have become more problematic at Twitter compared to other social media platforms since Elon Musk took over control of the company. 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.