Elon Musk has created a toxic mess for the LGBTQ+ community. I would know.
Since finalizing his purchase of Twitter, Musk has brought some of the platform’s most notorious banned users back to the flock. He also reactivated Kanye West’s and Donald Trump’s accounts shortly before restoring Greene’s accounts. He also restored the accounts of Project Veritas which had engaged in severe sexual doxxing. James Lindsay ,, who popularized the hashtag “OK groomer”, opined Joe McCarthy hadn’t gone far enough and called a Jewish person “Dr. Lampshades (a Holocaust myth that states that Jewish skin was used for lampshades); and Andrew Tate who stated that rape victims are responsible ..
Musk is now promising–based on a Twitter “poll” that was reportedly mobbed with extremist 4chan users–to reactivate any suspended account that didn’t violate the law or generate egregious spam. That could be quite the motley crew: for example, Nick Fuentes, a white supremacist who said “the Jews had better start being nice to people like us, because what comes out of this is going to be a lot uglier and a lot worse for them”; Milo Yiannopoulos, who worked closely with Nazi and white supremacist leaders, was Sieg Heil saluted by Nazis, used antisemitic words as passwords, and recently posted about the “Jewish powers that be who hate Jesus Christ, hate our country, and see us all as disposable cattle according to their ‘holy’ book” (Yiannopoulos interns for Greene); and an endless cast of lesser-known insurrectionists, bigots, and online harassers. Musk’s exclusion from the “violate the laws” list seems to be very limited considering that Trump incited people to violent insurrection.
Although Twitter is small compared to other major social media platforms, this shift is huge. Twitter is a powerful platform. It is an important platform for democracy. Ideas and information can germinate, spread, and break free from Twitter into wider media and public perception. Twitter has become a hub of American public discourse, whether it is in politics, media, science or medicine, or any other subject.
Make no mistake, the reinstatement these accounts will make Twitter much more toxic than before. These people were not benign trolls. Many of them have been involved in antisemitic and homophobic harassment campaigns, are doxxers, are egregious misinformation providers that risk violence or promote vaccine lies, or incited or continue inciting insurrection. They are not only forgiven for their past actions, but it also validates and enshrines the rhetoric they use as pillars of Twitter’s future platform.
Musk’s attempt to reinstate him seems to be based on his assertion that he is “free speech absolutist.” While he has banned many progressive accounts from parodying him, which is an essential form of free speech, his free speech absolutism actually refers only to free hate speech and free harassment speech. Combined with his decimation of Twitter’s content moderation staff, Twitter will quickly become the free-for-all hellscape Musk insists he wants to avoid.
If Twitter becomes a right-wing cesspool, even if it’s a benign version of 4chan, its role as a democratizing platform for global conversations will rapidly collapse as people who don’t believe Fuentes or other white supremacists or Nazis are awesome flee the site. More tangibly for Twitter users – and for those who aren’t on Twitter but are still targeted by the platform, an antisemitic, racist, homophobic. transphobic. xenophobic. threatening Twitter cesspool places a lot people in real physical danger. This is based on my personal experience as a gay Jewish Democrat from San Francisco.
Over the past few years, I have received thousands of death threats. These threats were primarily based on or stemming out of social media. A secondary source was my work to expand vaccine accessibility.
The threats and harassment started when I wrote a law to repeal several felonies that singled out people living with HIV for harsh criminal treatment (felonies that didn’t apply to people with any other serious infectious diseases). The social media threats and harassment then exploded when I authored a law–supported by law enforcement, civil rights organizations, and victim advocacy groups–to end discrimination against LGBTQ young people when determining who should be included on California’s sex offender registry. That bill sparked the QAnon slander campaign against me, describing my actions as a “pedophile and groomer” and allowing transgender children and their families to seek refuge here if they are being punished in states like Texas or Alabama. I also pursued legislation that would allow teenagers to be vaccinated without parental consent to protect their health and allow them to get vaccinated.
The harassment and threats directed at me via social media have been incredible. I have been raped. I have been repeatedly threatened with rape and decapitation. I was told by the sender that he would come to me with a gun. I was threatened with a bomb and the police came to my house with a bomb-sniffing dogs. Numerous threats made via or almost certainly inspired social media led to criminal prosecutions and convictions of those who issued them. For the first time in my entire life, I was called to testify before a jury against a man who threatened my very existence. As I received death threats in waves, I learned a lot more about the different social media platforms and their approach to the problem. YouTube was the most slow to respond to harassment and threats. Meta (mainly Instagram, but also Facebook) was slow at first to take action, but it improved over time. Although Twitter was the most responsive and proactive platform, I am confident that it will continue to be just as good as the other platforms. People like me will likely feel much worse.
Although it’s been terrible for me, I’m one lucky person. I am fortunate because I have the resources. I have a platform and a position where I can highlight the issue, as I am doing in this piece.
The same can’t be said about the vast majority of people who are threatened, stalked, harassed, or doxxed on Twitter and other platforms and whose lives will get worse as Musk empties out the Twitter equivalent of the Phantom Zone, allowing vicious, bigoted, and even violent harassers, Nazis, and white supremacists to return. Extremists claim that educators are “grooming” transgender children or teaching them critical race theory. Pictures of family members and addresses of progressive activists are being posted online. Anti-vaxxers are viciously harassing and threatening public health leaders, while anti-choice elements are harassing and threatening physicians.
It’s enough to say that for every public figure like me, thousands of people suffer in silence. Elon Musk is the owner of Twitter and has the power and ability to change it. Twitter is more than just a private asset. It is important for democracy and public discourse. It also matters for the safety of people. Musk lives in a very special world. In fact, he is the richest man on the planet. He has every resource imaginable, including security, investigators, and whatever else he may need. Most of us don’t have these resources. We are the ones who suffer the consequences of Musk’s chaotic Twitter game.
Scott Wiener is a California state senator who represents San Francisco and northern San Mateo County.
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.