Twitter’s death spiral and what it means for LGBTQ+ rights

Elon musk twitter

For more than a decade, Twitter has been a place where LGBTQ+ people can organise, connect and call out injustices. But as the platform appears to be circling the plughole, what does the future hold for queer activists, journalists and communities?

Twitter transformed how many activists and journalists, especially those involved with marginalised communities, work. Some of the biggest human rights causes of recent times have reached the masses through the site, with hashtags such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter bringing unprecedented attention to underreported injustices. Activists have used Twitter to organise, and journalists have been able to find sources and track stories in ways not possible before the internet.

But Twitter has been in decline since it was bought by billionaire Elon Musk in October 2022. Amid staff culls, attempts to popularise a paid-for Twitter Blue service, and a general desire by Musk to allow free speech to run wild, the site has become less and less useable.

In early July, the site began limiting how many tweets users can read in a day. Soon after, Meta launched its rival, Threads, with the combination labelled a death knell by many.

LGBTQ+ activists and journalists have criticised increasing “hate” and “harassment” since Musk’s takeover in October. Alongside deep cuts to moderation and safety staff, Musk has attempted to ban the word “cisgender” on the site, claimed deadnaming and misgendering are now allowed, and overseen anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech skyrocketing.

“Since Elon took over, it has definitely amplified outspoken voices who are a detriment to the LGBTQ+ community and democracy as a whole, for example, [Republican] representative Majorie Taylor Greene,” Brian Femminella, a 23-year-old LGBTQ+ activist from Los Angeles, tells PinkNews

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He explains that Twitter’s format has long meant activists are able to connect with politicians and community leaders, something that isn’t as easy on other platforms.

“Twitter is how I have been able to connect with now-close colleagues and foster relationships about our common interests – activism for the queer community.”

Twitter boss Elon Musk wears a white shirt and black coat as he stares at someone off camera
Billionaire Elon Musk bough Twitter in October 2022. (Getty Images)

While Femminella is still using Twitter, he says “there is a resistance growing against the site, especially because it no longer feels regulated for harassment or truthful narratives”. 

“It has slowed conversations and dimmed the vibrance that the platform once had,” he adds.

In July, a survey found that 60 per cent of LGBTQ+ social media users are turning their backs on mainstream platforms due safety concerns, while a separate survey found 50 per cent of journalists have considered leaving Twitter.

Twitter’s impact on LGBTQ+ journalism, and LGBTQ+ journalists, is huge.

Elly, a journalist from New York, says: “It used to be so much easier for editors looking for a certain type of voice or perspective to find you and reach out. The site created so many opportunities for people who wouldn’t be able to use traditional avenues of getting work to do that.

“That aspect of the site mostly seems to be gone.”

Elly explains they used to use Twitter as a critical source for finding news, “to be notified of what was going on with anti-queer and anti-trans legislation, mass shootings, even just what’s happening in the queer community”, but it is “no longer a place for that”.

They add that algorithms have “buried mostly everything”, with breaking news no longer working in the same way, bots becoming more prevalent and queer and trans people using the platform less.

“[Twitter] felt like a really special (albeit always chaotic) place for a while, that was full of opportunity. Now it feels like a hindrance to connection and a place where you cannot get information either,” they explain. 

Elly predicts that Twitter’s demise will harm journalists and marginalised groups, and “new tools for connection, community, and spreading information” will have to be found. 

“Twitter’s demise is already having a detrimental effect on journalists and marginalised groups, and it will be even worse if and when it ceases to exist,” they add.

“It’s where marginalised and harmed people go to crowdfund and can reach wide audiences. It’s where journalists are able to find sources from diverse backgrounds and with varied perspectives. It’s where people build community when they’ve been isolated (including disabled and trans people like me). 

“I know a lot of freelance journalists and writers whose opportunities to find work have been totally shot down. I’ve had more difficulty finding work and publishing because of it… I’m worried about people having opportunities for their voices to be heard.”

Elly and Femminella both said they are using and enjoying platforms such as Threads and Bluesky, however Elly feels vital tools, such as DMs, are missing from some new platforms.

“It feels like on Twitter we were all sitting in the same cafeteria, but now, with all these new platforms splitting everyone up, we’re all in a bunch of different cafeterias, and no longer as connected to [one another],” Elly adds.

“Twitter was the town square. I don’t think anything is going to be quite the same.”

Femminella, who has worked with the Human Rights Campaign, describes Threads as an “amazing platform”, but says its reach is not yet the same as Twitter’s, where politicians engage with his activism work.

“Although Twitter has ruined its reputation and safety, I have still found it [to be] one of the strongest for making connections. There is hate on the platform, but, in reality, there is hate everywhere and it is up to us to find those who stand up to this hatred and come together,” he adds. 

“Twitter needs to fix its policies and focus more on protecting marginalised groups in order to survive.”

An ‘explosion’ of hate

EImran Ahmed, the chief executive of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, notes the rise of hate on the platform, adding that if Twitter is to survive, it must protect its marginalised users. 

“Elon Musk’s ownership of Twitter has coincided with an explosion of the hateful ‘grooming’ lie and Twitter is monetising this hate at an unprecedented rate,” Ahmed claims.

“An indifference to the rights of marginalised communities has converged with a ruthless drive for profit in real time. Twitter must decide if they believe in the fundamental rights and freedoms of LGBTQ+ people, or if they want to continue profiting from, and normalising, hate,” he adds.

“They cannot do both.”

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