Twitter ends speech restrictions on transgender issues

Twitter Photo illustration. | Shutterstock

Without making a public announcement, Twitter quietly updated its policy on “hateful conduct” to remove its bans on “deadnaming” and “misgendering” transgender people, which had previously been used to restrict critics of the transgender movement.

Although the social media company kept most of its hateful-conduct policy in place, the update removed one line in the “Slurs and Tropes” subsection. The now-removed line had stated that slurs and tropes included “targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals.”

Under the previous rules, to misgender someone meant to refer to a transgender person by the gender that matches his or her biological sex but does not match the person’s self-proclaimed gender identity. This also included the use of pronouns that matched the person’s biological sex but did not match the person’s purported gender identity. To deadname someone meant to refer to that person by his or her birth name as opposed to the name chosen after the person’s gender transition.

Before this shift, the hateful-conduct restrictions had been used to ban or restrict users who were critical of the transgender movement. This included well-known figures, such as Turning Point USA Founder Charlie Kirk, who was suspended for tweets about Rachel Levine, the transgender United States assistant secretary for health. Feminist writer Meghan Murphy was also banned for repeatedly using male pronouns to refer to transgender people who transitioned from male to female.

In one case, the Christian satirical website Babylon Bee was suspended from Twitter for jokingly naming Levine “man of the year” after USA Today named Levine one of its “women of the year” two days prior. Babylon Bee owner and CEO Seth Dillon refused to delete the tweet, the condition which Twitter said was the only way the account could be reinstated.

When billionaire Elon Musk acquired Twitter in October 2022, he promised to expand free speech on the platform. The businessman had earlier signaled his opposition to certain shifts toward political correctness, tweeting in July 2020 that “pronouns suck” in a reference to the transgender movement’s emphasis on pronouns. 

Since Musk took over the company, he has reinstated thousands of previously banned accounts. The three previously mentioned accounts are currently allowed to operate. 

Much of Twitter’s hateful-conduct policies remained in place. The guidelines still state that “severe, repetitive usage of slurs, or racist/sexist tropes where the context is to harass or intimidate others” could result in removal and that “moderate, isolated usage where the context is to harass or intimidate others” could result in other restrictions on a person’s account.

Under the “dehumanization” subsection, the policies still prohibit “the dehumanization of a group of people based on their religion, caste, age, disability, serious disease, national origin, race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.” The policy also bans “hateful images,” which include the Nazi swastika, and other images that “include hateful symbols or references to a mass murder that targeted a protected category.”

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