U.S. Reps. Adam Schiff and Mark Takano, both Democrats from California, Tuesday called on Twitter CEO Elon Musk to address the rise in hate speech, including anti-LGBTQ+ speech, on the platform since he took it over last fall.
They cited a study from the Center for Countering Digital Hate, also released Tuesday, that notes the volume of tweets characterizing LGBTQ+ people as “groomers” has increased 119 percent since Musk assumed control October 27.
“New studies have demonstrated, once again, that hate speech has dramatically increased on the platform. As a result of these studies, we have new data showing that Twitter is not adequately or consistently acting on the hate speech on the platform,” Schiff and Takano wrote in a letter to Musk.
The congressmen had written to Musk in December, “after multiple reports came out demonstrating that since late October, when you initiated numerous layoffs and changes at the company, hate speech has dramatically increased on Twitter,” they stated in the new letter. Musk responded by tweeting that one of them had a brain that “was too small.”
In the first letter, they cited particularly the rise in anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ+ speech. Some of it, in addition to racist speech, has been directed at them; Schiff is Jewish, and Takano is gay and Asian American.
“Unfortunately, our letter was only met with open hostility and a false public attack that did not provide the requested data,” they wrote Tuesday. “Your various tweets to our offices included a decrease in hate speech was followed by massive amounts of antisemitic and anti-LGBTQ comments and threats against us on both of our Twitter accounts.”
The two lawmakers said they are writing again following new data available that contradicts Musk’s comments that hate speech is decreasing on the platform. Schiff and Takano cite research from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), which found that anti-Semitic tweets had increased by over 106 percent.
“Additionally, the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) released a new study today, which shows there was a 119% increase in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and slurs on the platform under your leadership,” they wrote. “This follows a February study from CCDH which demonstrated the harms that you have brought to the platform by reinstating tens of thousands of accounts that were espousing antisemitic, anti-LGBTQ, bigoted, misogynistic, and racist ideologies. Most notably they found that just ten of those hateful accounts have accumulated over 2.5 billion impressions on Twitter since December.”
Schiff and Takano’s letter references the CCDH’s findings that Twitter will gain $6.4 million each year from advertising revenue by just reinstating five accounts known for their anti-LGBTQ+ content.
Those five are Libs of TikTok, Gays Against Groomers, Chris Rufo, James Lindsay, and Tim Pool. The first three “were named by the Anti-Defamation League in its list of the top Online Amplifiers of Anti-LGBTQ+ Extremism,” according to a CCDH press release. Lindsay is known for popularizing the phrase “OK groomer” and was banned from Twitter before Musk’s takeover. Pool was cited by watchdog group Media Matters for appearing to blame the victims of the Colorado Springs LGBTQ+ nightclub shooting and for spreading anti-transgender propaganda.
Schiff and Takano’s letter asks Musk what steps he’s going to take to address hate speech and when; if he has a plan to increase safety for users, particularly those who are LGBTQ+ or Jewish; and how Twitter enforces content moderation and if it will share that process with the public.
In the CCDH press release, CEO Imran Ahmed said, “Hate-filled lies about LGBTQ+ people are spread online to dehumanize fellow citizens and whip up fear purely based on whom they love or how they identify, and is mirrored by an alarming rise in real-world violence. This isn’t an accident. Elon Musk put up the ‘Bat Signal’ to homophobes, transphobes, racists and all manner of disinformation actors, encouraging them to flood onto Twitter. Not only has Musk’s ownership of the platform coincided with an explosion of the hateful ‘grooming’ narrative, but Twitter is monetizing hate at an unprecedented rate.”
Ahmed added: “Twitter must decide if they believe in the fundamental rights and freedoms of LGBTQ+ people, or if they want to continue profiting from and normalizing hate. They cannot do both.”
The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ+ rights organization, also slammed Twitter over CCDH’s findings.
Jay Brown, Human Rights Campaign senior vice president, programs, research, and training said in a statement that the U.S. is facing “a surge of anti-LGBTQ+ attacks as extremists continue to traffic in dangerous disinformation about our community.”
“These threats have caused a rise in verbal and physical abuse, with nearly one-in-five of any type of hate crime being motivated by anti-LGBTQ+ bias — with a continued epidemic of fatal violence facing transgender people, particularly Black transgender women,” Brown said. “Social media platforms have a responsibility to their users to create a space where the exchange of opposing ideas does not result in physical harm, or discriminatory legislation.”