X reinstates bans on misgendering, deadnaming trans people

X formerly Twitter reinstates policy bans on Misgendering Deadnaming

The Free Press, GLAAD, and Amnesty International were part of a coalition in 2023 caaled Stop Toxic Twitter campaign to get companies to stop advertising on the platform. Photo: AE Marlin

In a discreet move that went largely unnoticed until technology news site Ars Technica first reported it Thursday, X (formerly Twitter) implemented a significant policy change in January, adjusting its approach to handling cases of misgendering and deadnaming.

The policy, which does not explicitly mention transgender, has stirred controversy among the platform’s users, including Chaya Raichik, the creator of the controversial Libs of TikTok, known for its anti-trans rhetoric.

The revised policy aims to reduce the visibility of posts that engage in targeted harassment, including misgendering and deadnaming, rather than removing them or suspending the offending accounts.

“We will reduce the visibility of posts that purposefully use different pronouns to address someone other than what that person uses for themselves, or that use a previous name that someone no longer goes by as part of their transition,” the policy states. “Given the complexity of determining whether such a violation has occurred, we must always hear from the target to determine if a violation has occurred.”

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The platform seeks to empower users to express diverse opinions and beliefs without barriers while recognizing the need to protect individuals from harassment that could jeopardize their ability to express themselves, according to X’s policy document.

Chaya Raichik, Libs of TikTok

However, this approach did not sit well with Raichik, who took to X to challenge the policy’s effectiveness and its implications on free speech.

“Apparently X might’ve reinstated their ‘misgendering’ rule so I gotta test it out…” Raichik posted, proceeding to deadname and misgender several prominent transgender figures, including Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine, influencer Dylan Mulvaney, and actor Elliot Page.

Raichik’s challenge to the policy prompted a noteworthy exchange with Elon Musk, X’s owner.

Raichik’s tweet sparked a direct response from the billionaire, who assured her, “You’re not going to get suspended.”

This assurance from Musk led Raichik to further inquire about the nuances of the policy change, expressing concerns over what she perceived as limitations on speech.

“Yeah just shadowbanned and less tweet visibility,” Raichik responded.

Musk clarified his stance, emphasizing the specific target of the policy: “This is just about repeated, targeted harassment of a particular person.”

This back-and-forth highlighted the tension between Musk’s vision for X as a bastion of free speech and the need to protect users from harassment.

Raichik followed up with concerns over the fairness of limiting her ability to disrespect trangender people.

“Using the correct sex-based pronouns for someone is ‘harassment?’” she asked. “We’re being forced to lie? What about harassment in general? There are accounts who repeatedly target and harass specific individuals in an obsessive way. What constitutes ‘repeated’ and ‘targeted’ and why do only one group of people get this special treatment?”

Musk did not respond.

Protections removed in 2023

In May 2023, Musk made headlines by removing existing protections for transgender individuals, signaling a dangerous shift in the platform’s stance on hate speech and harassment.

Musk’s decision to reduce protections was framed as a move toward prioritizing “free speech,” but at the cost of potentially increasing harassment and abuse towards vulnerable communities and the mass exodus of advertisers from the platform, setting the stage for the controversy that would unfold with the recent quiet policy update.

Reinstated policy go far enough?

The reinstated policy has drawn criticism from LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign, who argue that the policy does not go far enough to protect transgender and nonbinary users from harassment.

“The phrasing of the new policy clearly indicates that mitigations will be applied to violative content that engages in targeted misgendering and deadnaming (using previous pronouns and names), however it is not a best practice to put the burden on the person being targeted to self-report,” a GLAAD spokesperson tells The Advocate.

“This effectively means that enormous quantities of dangerous anti-trans hate and harassment will remain active on the platform — causing harm to trans and nonbinary people who see it,” the spokesperson says.

The Advocate contacted X’s press team, which was essentially dismantled after Musk acquired the company. An email from X in response to a request for comment read, “Busy now, please check back later.”

A 2023 GLAAD report underscored the industry’s growing consensus on prohibiting targeted misgendering and deadnaming, emphasizing such acts as deliberate forms of hate and harassment.

In recent months, through GLAAD’s advocacy, social media companies, including Spoutible, Post, Discord, and Snapchat, have implemented policies prohibiting targeted misgendering and deadnaming.

Senior fellow for Tech Advocacy & LGBTQ+ Inclusion at HRC Belle Torek questions the efficacy of decreasing post visibility.

“Merely reducing the visibility of offensive posts, as opposed to outright removal or suspension, does not adequately address the significant harm that misgendering and deadnaming cause their targets,” Torek tells The Advocate.

“Harassment in the form of misgendering and deadnaming often seeks to invalidate and silence LGBTQ+ people online,” Torek says, adding that the burden placed on victims to report violations can exacerbate their trauma and discourage them from participating in online spaces.

Policy criticized

Both organizations criticized the policy’s omission of explicit references to transgender people and its quiet implementation, viewing it as indicative of a broader reluctance to enforce protections against targeted harassment. 

“A policy is only as good as its enforcement,” Torek stresses, pointing to the importance of unequivocal support for transgender, nonbinary, and gender-diverse users.

Torek also criticized Musk’s assertion that Raichik wouldn’t be affected.

“When a platform demonstrates unwillingness to enforce its own policies or grants exemptions to high-profile users, it undermines the credibility of the guidelines and signals to bad actors that their actual conduct doesn’t really matter,” Torek says.

As the debate continues, the actions of X and its leadership in the coming months will be closely watched by both supporters and critics of the policy change.

“While there are a multitude of reasons that a platform user may change their name or pronouns, it is telling that they deliberately omit mention of transgender users. In the same way that X should support users who change their names when they get married, or who use a professional alias instead of their government name, X can and should demonstrate its unequivocal support for its transgender, nonbinary, gender-diverse, and other LGBTQ+ users; and this policy is a strong opportunity for X to do just that,” Torek added. “We’ll see if their actions match.”

This article originally appeared on Advocate.com, and is shared here as part of an LGBTQ+ community exchange between Q Voice News and Equal Pride.

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Christopher Wiggins

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