Twitter appears to censor some LGBTQ2S+ terms

OPINION: When queer and trans voices are suppressed, social media platforms become less safe

Ever since Elon Musk was first rumoured to be taking over Twitter, trans people have been concerned about their futures on the social media platform. According to some preliminary testing, it appears that some of what trans people feared may already be coming to pass. 

According to numerous anecdotes and some early testing by British trans outlet Trans Safety Network, along with testing from Business Insider, there appears to be some suppression on tweets containing numerous LGBTQ2S+-related words like “trans,” “queer,” “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual” and even the word “sex.”

Clues first emerged that the site may be deboosting these words when trans people noticed that previews of tweets containing “trans” were not appearing when shared in private DM conversations. Twitter has not publicly commented on the matter, and the deboosting is not officially confirmed—but if true, these actions would represent a serious curtailment of free speech rights for the queer community on Twitter.

One of the best things about Twitter was the ability to hear the perspectives of people that you otherwise had little or no exposure to. For myself, a white person from New England who grew up in a farm town that didn’t have much diversity, I’ve learned so many ideas from corners of the platform, such as Black Twitter and disability Twitter, which I never had exposure to growing up.

I’ve similarly been told that my tweets about my everyday life as a trans person have taught people who otherwise didn’t personally know any trans people to think about trans issues. 

Before I had a high profile online (I currently have nearly 80,000 Twitter followers), or columns in international publications, I was just an internet poster. I spent years and years posting on a little known but very active internet message board devoted to following the sports programs at the University of Massachusetts. Through that forum, I got to know dozens of people whom I may never have met in real life. Sometimes I still hear from members of that message board, who have told me that following me on Twitter gave them a new and more compassionate take on trans issues. 

I also occasionally hear from parents of trans kids who have said they discovered me and my work through Twitter after their kid came out. These parents have thanked me for helping explain their child’s experience to them. 

These messages never fail to make my day, and I think this exposure dynamic represents the best of what Twitter could be.

It’s clear, however, that Musk has other ideas, clumsily and repeatedly rolling out the social media equivalent of get-rich-quick schemes on the platform in an effort to rapidly grow revenue and make up for his initial overpayment for the site. First it was selling blue checkmarks, which previously just served to verify a well-known or legitimate-information-producing person’s identity. Next it was blackmailing individuals and companies into paying for previously free API access, which helps websites and applications integrate more seamlessly with Twitter.


More recently, Musk changed the official Twitter logo displayed everywhere on the site to the doge meme. That same week, Musk asked a judge to toss out a $258 million lawsuit accusing him of running a pyramid scheme to support the Dogecoin cryptocurrency that also uses that meme. What’s clear post-Musk is that the platform doesn’t really care about its users and just bends to the whims and random thoughts of its feckless leader.

Beyond Musk’s basic business bumbles is a latent contempt for trans people. He has a history of making snide or bigoted tweets about trans people. He’s been so prolific in this realm that, just before his takeover, journalist and Xtra contributor Nico Lang compiled a whole thread of tweets by Musk that mocked trans people.

One of Musk’s children is a trans woman. Though he has specifically asked for privacy for her, he has frequently winked and nodded and even outright shared or positively commented on transphobic tweets sent to him by his followers.

It shouldn’t then be surprising that his company may be suppressing the reach of LGBTQ2S+ tweets. His position in the culture war and his thirst to befriend popular far-right Twitter trolls make his agenda perfectly clear.

Since Musk’s takeover, the number of tweets referring to LGBTQ2S+ people as “groomers” rose 119 percent, according to a recent study from the Center for Countering Digital Hate.

Despite all of the potential for Twitter to bring people together, Musk is hell-bent on destroying that ideal and filling the void with right-wing garbage, slurs and transphobia. 

Twitter is not the only social media platform to be accused of censoring LGBTQ2S+ content while allowing hate speech to thrive. In 2017, WIRED ran an extensive report about Facebook essentially doing just that. In 2021, the LGBTQ2S+ advocacy group GLAAD launched its Social Media Safety Index, judging Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube as “effectively unsafe for LGBTQ2S+ users.”

Many trans people I know jumped ship for other platforms a while ago. But we didn’t all agree on one place to go, and no other micro-blogging platform has the reach potential of Twitter even after a bunch of imitations have popped up in recent months.

Where can trans people go now to find online community and build harmony with others? I worry that we’re just on our own again.

Katelyn Burns is a freelance journalist and columnist for Xtra and MSNBC. She was the first openly trans Capitol Hill reporter in U.S. history.

Read More About:
Culture, Power, Opinion, Transphobia, Trans

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