It is no secret that Twitter has long been a special hellscape, but this Pride month it seems that the site has managed to go one step further. Twitter has long been a place where you can check in to find the latest in the day’s news, read new tirades against Twitter’s daily Main Character, and see some of the worst opinions voiced openly. However, since Elon Musk’s purchase of the site and the dumpster fire that has followed, his push to deregulate the site under a misunderstood notion of free speech has led to a significant rise in hate speech and the use of slurs on the platform.
It has long been the case that if you start to type a hashtag on a social media platform a series of suggested tags are listed for your perusal. These are traditionally related to what is trending on the platform in a move to help people join the hot conversations and to drive more attention to those topics. Some platforms, like Instagram, will even list the number of posts that include that tag. Twitter also offers those suggestions.
We’ve been boycotting Chick-Fil-A for their anti-LGBTQ+ stance for a decade, and it isn’t time to stop now, DEI or no.
However, it seems that some hashtags are getting listed more highly than others on Twitter these days. When a user begins typing “#Trans” on Twitter the list of suggestions might not be what they would expect, especially during Pride month. The most notable inclusions on the suggestions are #Transformers (complete with an Autobot logo, which is to be expected with the upcoming movie), a selection of tags related to transfers and #TransferWindow (a sports thing), and the troublesome #TransWomenAreConMen.
The tag #TransWomenAreConMen is heinous in its own right, but it’s sadly not anything terribly unexpected. If you look over the posts that use it (I wouldn’t recommend it), it is the usual transphobia and hate that we are used to seeing. It might not even be entirely surprising to see it listed as a suggestion if a lot of people are using it. But it appears to be the only tag that reliably appears that is actually related to trans people of the LGBTQ+ community.
We tested these suggestions across different users, accounts, IP addresses, and search histories, and found little variability in what was recommended. It might be thought that this is simply down to what is trending or most used, however a review of the “latest” posts of the hashtag #TransWomenAreConMen and the popular pro-trans tags #TransRightsAreHumanRights and #TransLivesMatter show a greater level of activity on the latter tags.
This isn’t limited to just the #Trans tag. If you type #Gay, you get nothing related to the LGBTQ+ community, and adding an “s” to the end of it immediately offers #GaysAgainstGroomers (the name of a far-right anti-LGBTQ group that protests gender-affirming care). #Lesbian has no suggestions, nor does #Bisexual or #Pansexual, while #Bi and #Pan just return unrelated results. While it’s unclear exactly how the Twitter backend recommends these, it’s clear that Twitter is now promoting tags that promote trans hate and anti-LGBTQ+ views and not ones that support the LGBTQ+ community.
This, of course, does not prove that Twitter is intentionally pushing anti-trans rhetoric itself. All of this might be dismissed as a happenstance of the backend and algorithm that has happened by chance or is based on user data, however it proves one thing. Even if Twitter is not actively pushing this content, it is not doing anything to actively combat it. When Google shows suggested searches, they are based on user data to predict what someone might want to search for about a topic, but it has at least some safeguards in place to prevent dangerous and harmful searches from being suggested. Twitter clearly does not have that at the current moment, presumably as part of Musk’s push for unrestrained “free speech”—even when it might insight violence or be akin to yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.
A trans healthcare ban bill has been temporarily blocked in Florida, but most Americans don’t know it was in effect for weeks.
Yet, even if one was to give Twitter as much credit as to dismiss this as part of the mysterious workings of the backend and blame computers, there’s another element to all of this. Twitter is also running ads such as the one seen below. This promoted post hits at dog whistles like “protect our children” and suggesting that surgeries are taking place on minors which is rarely the case outside of intersex people.
This is harmful misinformation with a call to action to push anti-LGBTQ+ policies. Not only was this promoted post run during Pride month, this particular one appeared when searching for the hashtag #TransRightsAreHumanRights. Plenty of advertisers have declined to have anything to do with Musk’s Twitter, but it seems the company is happy to court the dollar of hate and the far-right, regardless of the result.
Of course, most of this shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Elon Musk has made his distaste for the trans community clear for a long time. Twitter has repeatedly reinstated infamous transphobe Graham Linehan (of The IT Crowd and Black Books fame), and invited Trump back to the platform. With Musk making his support of Ron DeSantis plain, including hosting the announcement of DeSantis’ bid for the presidency on Twitter, the latest push for Twitter to be the home for trans hate is really just expected.
However, inevitable as it might all appear, it is still worth keeping note of these instances. Twitter might be a hellscape in many ways, but it is also a site where many LGBTQ+ have been able to find some community, run their businesses, and get answers to questions when they needed to find themselves. With platforms like Reddit that have provided some similar spaces facing a blackout, it becomes hard to know where to go. As legislators across the United States work to remove any conversation of LGBTQ+ identities from schools, it is more important than ever for people to be able to find those answers online, and finding a new space that might be safe for such discussions is going to become a serious issue in the coming months.