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Twitter is a more dangerous social platform for LGBTQ users now than it was a year ago, according to a new survey from LGBTQ+ rights organization GLAAD.
The group’s third annual Social Media Safety Index (SMSI) report finds a pullback and inconsistent enforcement of company policies addressing anti-LGBTQ online hate speech.
“Dehumanizing anti-LGBTQ content on social media such as misinformation and hate have an outsized impact on real-world violence and harmful anti-LGBTQ legislation,” said GLAAD CEO and President Sarah Kate Ellis.
“Social media platforms too often fail at enforcing their own policies regarding such content,” she added.
GLAAD’s SMSI Platform Scorecard evaluates LGBTQ safety, privacy and expression on five major platforms — Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and Twitter — based on 12 LGBTQ-specific indicators. These indicators include explicit protections from hate and harassment for LGBTQ users, offering gender pronoun options on profiles, and prohibiting ads that could be harmful and/or discriminatory to LGBTQ people.
Regular CNBC guest and New York Magazine Editor at Large Kara Swisher sits on GLAAD’s SMSI advisory committee of more than a dozen industry experts.
Not just Twitter
Twitter is not alone. The other four major social media platforms also received low scores on the SMSI scorecard, with Facebook garnering a 61% and TikTok posting a 57% out of a possible 100%. See below for a breakdown of the results.
GLAAD found that the platforms continue to fall short at establishing and enforcing safeguards meant to protect LGBTQ users from hate speech. Lack of transparency around user data also remains a privacy concern.
Jack Malon, a YouTube spokesperson, told CNBC the platform’s policies prohibit content that promotes violence or hatred against the LGBTQ+ community: “Over the last few years, we’ve made significant progress in our ability to quickly remove this content from our platform and prominently surface authoritative sources in search results and recommendations.”
TikTok and Meta both told CNBC their respective platforms remain committed to protecting the LGBTQ+ community.
“We’re proud to have strong policies aimed at protecting LGBTQ+ individuals from harassment and hate speech, including misgendering and deadnaming, and we’re always looking to strengthen our approach, informed both by our community and the advice of experts, such as GLAAD,” said a TikTok spokesperson.
A Meta spokesperson said the company is open to collaboration to create a safer platform for all users: “We engage with civil society organizations around the world in our work to design policies and create tools that foster a safe online environment.”
Of the five major platforms included in this study, Twitter was the only one with scores that declined from last year. Its score slipped to 33% from 44.7%.
The dip comes in part as a result of the company’s removal of transgender user protections in April 2023.
Twitter’s hateful conduct policy previously stated that Twitter prohibits “targeting others with repeated slurs, tropes or other content that intends to degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes about a protected category. This includes targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals.” The second line was removed in April, according to archived versions of the page from the Wayback Machine dated two months prior.
Twitter sent a poop emoji in response to an emailed request for comment. The company did not immediately respond to a direct message seeking comment via Twitter.
Elon Musk took over as owner and CEO of the social platform in October 2022. Musk told CNBC’s David Faber in May that as an “aspirational” free speech absolutist, he defends a “community notes” model to protect users on the platform.
“My overall kind of vision for actual Twitter is to be a cybernetic collective mind for humanity,” said Musk. “You can think of community notes as like an error correction on information in the network. And the effect of community notes is actually bigger than it would seem. It’s bigger than the number of notes because if somebody knows that they’re going to get noted they are less likely to say something that is false, because it’s embarrassing to get community noted.”
The debate over a community notes approach is that it leaves the burden on those affected by hate speech to report harmful posts. GLAAD says this approach causes “sheer traumatic psychological impact of being relentlessly exposed to slurs and hateful conduct.”
A dangerous environment
So far in 2023, GLAAD has documented more than 160 acts or threats of violence at LGBTQ events. GLAAD’s recent Accelerating Acceptance report found that 86% of non-LGBTQ Americans agree that exposure to online hate content leads to real-world violence.
“There is an urgent need for effective regulatory oversight of the tech industry — and especially social media companies — with the goal of protecting LGBTQ people, and all people,” said GLAAD’s senior director of social media safety, Jenni Olson.
GLAAD is calling on social media platforms to take responsibility for ineffective policies, products and algorithms that create a dangerous environment for LGBTQ users, adding that actions from the platforms are limited because “enragement leads to profitable engagement.”
Olson added that social media industry leaders “continue to prioritize corporate profits over the public interest.”
“As many of the companies behind these platforms recognize Pride month,” said Ellis. “They should recognize their roles in creating a dangerous environment for LGBTQ Americans and urgently take meaningful action.”