Twitter has seen a dramatic increase in anti-LGBTQ+ tweets since Elon Musk took over the social media platform last October and, according to a new report, the company is making millions from those tweets.
The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) found that posts linking LGBTQ+ people to “grooming” and pedophilia have increased by 119% under Musk. Meanwhile, ads from major companies like Disney, T-Mobile, Kindle, and the NBA have appeared next to anti-LGBTQ+ tweets. According to the study, five high-profile anti-LGBTQ+ accounts—including Chaya Raichik’s Libs of TikTok, Jaimee Michell’s Gays Against Groomers, and those of right-wing pundit Christopher Rufo, YouTuber Tim Pool, and James Lindsay—are set to generate $6.4 million in ad revenue per year for Twitter.
“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,” said CCDH CEO Imran Ahmed. “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.”
CCDH’s head of research Callum Hood said that tolerance of content perpetuating the false “groomer” narrative, which links LGBTQ+ people to pedophilia, is part of Musk’s business model at Twitter. “There is real world stuff happening now that appears to be a result of this rhetoric online,” Hood said.
In recent years, that false “groomer” narrative has fueled anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment on the right. Republican state legislatures around the country have introduced legislation aimed at banning books by LGBTQ+ authors, restricting discussion of LGBTQ+ topics in schools, and outlawing drag performances. The online misinformation has also led to armed members of far-right groups like the Proud Boys disrupting drag shows and family-friendly events like Pride celebrations and drag queen story hours.
According to the CCDH study, “groomer” tweets also spiked around events like the mass shooting at Colorado Springs gay club Club Q in November 2022.
On Tuesday, following the release of the CCDH report, Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Mark Takano (D-CA) sent a letter to Musk blasting him for the prevalence of hate speech on Twitter and demanding to know how he plans to combat it. They had previously written to the billionaire CEO last December with concerns about reports of the dramatic rise in hate speech on the platform under Musk’s leadership.
“Unfortunately, our letter was only met with open hostility and a false public attack that did not provide the requested data,” Schiff and Takano wrote this week. “Your various tweets to our offices included statistics without evidence, nonsensical graphs, and personal attacks. Your tweets at us stating 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.”
“We are writing three months later as new research has been published showing your claims about a decrease in hate speech to be false,” they continued, citing the new CCDH report as well as a study from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) showing a 106% increase in antisemitic tweets under Musk, and another CCDH study from February that demonstrated the harm Musk has caused by reinstating tens of thousands of Twitter accounts that had previously been banned for espousing antisemitic, anti-LGBTQ+, bigoted, misogynistic, and racist ideologies—including James Lindsay’s.
Schiff and Takano included a list of questions for Musk, seeking detail about his plan to combat hate speech on Twitter. “What steps is your company taking in response to the recent rise in hate speech on your platform and how do you plan to make these decisions available to the public? Additionally, what is your timeline for rolling out any of these changes?” they asked. “What is Twitter’s plan to increase safety for its users, and more specifically the LGBTQ+ community and the Jewish community?”
Last October, in an open letter, Musk tried to reassure advertisers that, despite his goal of allowing “a wide range of beliefs” on Twitter, the platform would not become a “free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences.”
“Musk has not kept his promises on hate and that means he’s not keeping his promises to advertisers either,” CCDH’s Hood said. “The decisions that he is taking personally seem to be calculated with one goal in mind: boosting user visits.”
“An indifference to the rights of marginalized communities is converging with a ruthless drive for profit in real time,” Ahmed said. “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.”