As of last week, Twitter officially belongs to richest man alive Elon Musk, who first purchased the social media platform with the promise to restore “free speech.” The problem is that his version of “free speech” is one in which marginalized communities, including LGBTQ+ people, can be openly bullied without perpetrators facing consequences.
Over the past year, Twitter’s administrators had finally taken some of the homophobia and transphobia on its website seriously by taking down tweets that portrayed drag queens as groomers, according to NBC, and temporarily suspending a right wing satirical account, the Babylon Bee, that spewed hateful rhetoric about trans people. Musk appeared pretty unhappy about the Babylon Bee’s ban in April and even reached out to its CEO, Seth Dillon, about potentially buying Twitter because of it.
In short, Musk’s bid for Twitter began, at least in part, because he wanted to defend a transphobic tweet, which on its own does not fare well for LGBTQ+ people. On top of that, several prominent far-right personalities on Twitter have been celebrating Musk’s latest impulse purchase and made their intentions to push the boundaries of their free speech (aka homophobic and transphobic tweets) abundantly clear.
What is even more concerning, though, is that much of the anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric is coming from Musk himself, which makes it feel unlikely that he will ban accounts that spread hurtful disinformation about the community. Over the weekend, Musk retweeted (and subsequently deleted) an article that falsely claimed that the person who attacked Nancy Pelosi’s husband with a hammer was actually his gay lover.
Last week, the daughter of Jordan Peterson, a Canadian right wing professor who believes that women are the root of all evil, tweeted at Elon Musk to ask if her dad would be allowed back onto the platform. Peterson’s account was suspended after he deadnamed Elliot Page and made disparaging comments about his surgeon, according to TechCrunch.
“Anyone suspended for minor & dubious reasons will be freed from Twitter jail,” Musk responded.
Musk’s Twitter is already looking so unwelcoming for queer people that the Human Rights Campaign issued a statement: “Musk has pledged to restore the accounts of dangerous people who push extremism and disinformation. When this happens, Twitter ― a place where many marginalized people, including LGBTQ+ people, find both community and face an onslaught of hate ― will quickly become even more hostile.”
Some of the accounts that could be restored could include those of Marjorie Taylor Greene and Steve Bannon, both prominent cultural figures who have been extremely vocal against queer people’s rights and well-being.
It’s clear that Musk’s new intentions for Twitter involve protecting people’s rights to belittle the LGBTQ+ community, particularly trans people. The real problem is that Musk likely doesn’t understand how hateful rhetoric against marginalized communities doesn’t just make people uncomfortable — it is a dangerous catalyst to empowering violence against our most vulnerable communities. If your only knowledge of trans people are tweets coming from right-wing extremists, it’s likely that those are the viewpoints you’ll end up believing — and that is a scary prospect.
Musk’s Twitter is obviously not about protecting free speech. If it was, it would be protecting the rights of disenfranchised people to feel comfortable enough to speak out on the platform. Instead, it’s about enabling bullies who are angry because they can no longer bully as freely as they once did, and reinstating their rights to talk down to people they know nothing about.