Twitter failed to tackle LGBTQ monkeypox hate speech, says study

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Twitter has been accused of failing to tackle the spread of anti-LGBTQ hate speech and misinformation about monkeypox.

A study by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) found that online discussions linking the virus to the LGBTQ community skyrocketed following the outbreak of the virus in May.

False claims have suggested that monkeypox was pre-planned by the world’s elite as part of the so-called “plandemic“.

But other Twitter users have predominantly used the outbreak to spread online hate and disinformation targeting the LGBTQ community.

Social media platforms have increasingly been accused of facilitating the spread of homophobic content related to the virus.

In a statement to Euronews, a Twitters spokesperson said “while we have made recent strides in giving people greater control to manage their safety, we know there is still work to be done as our product, policy and engineering teams continue to work at scale and pace to build a healthier Twitter.”

According to the ISD research, anti-LGBTQ narratives have been used to specifically demonise gay men on Twitter, falsely presenting them as the source of the outbreak.

Disinformation also suggested that LGBTQ people were a danger to children after the first two US children were infected with monkeypox in July.

Conspiracists and far-right voices — such as US Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene — claimed without proof that the children must have been infected by sexual interactions with gay men.

Monkeypox is not considered a sexually-transmitted disease (STD) because it is not spread through bodily fluids during sexual contact, but in droplets via respiratory tracts or from the bedding or clothes of an infected person.

But the online disinformation plays into the false narrative that all LGBTQ people are “groomers” or paedophiles and want to turn children queer. 

Twitter has recently banned the use of the word “groomer” from its platform but only when it is used as a slur against non-binary and trans people.

But the ISD found that social media users have been able to circumvent the ban by using a shortened version of the word while removing some letters.

“You can’t really ban one word in a very strict sense when you have all of these conversations going on on social media,” said Aoife Gallagher, an analyst at the ISD.

“Twitter is still hosting some of the vilest accounts that are propagating these ideas,” she told Euronews.

“It really highlighted that in a space of a few days, the platform became overrun with a hate riddle public health campaign used against the queer community.”

In May, the UN’s AIDS programme warned that stigmatising language about monkeypox could fuel homophobic hate speech, similar to the outbreak of AIDS in the 1980s.

Public health authorities are increasingly reconsidering their public health messaging to avoid further marginalising the LGBTQ community.

Gallagher says that social media platforms — such as Twitter — need to be more proactive.

“Their statements are hot air,” she told Euronews. “It shows that Twitter doesn’t understand how these campaigns work. It also shows that as much as they say they’re doing their best, I don’t think they are.”

“We call for policies that are fit for purpose and enforcement of these policies so that they will make a difference for the people that are using these platforms.”