In the days after a gunman killed five people at a gay nightclub in Colorado last month, much of social media lit up with the now familiar expressions of grief, mourning, and disbelief. But on some online message boards and platforms, the tone was celebratory. “I love waking up to great news," wrote one user on Gab, a platform popular with far-right groups. Other users on the site called for more violence. And the hate isn't limited to fringe sites: On Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, researchers and LGBTQ advocates have tracked an increase in hate speech and threats of violence directed at LGBTQ people, groups, and events, with much of it directed at transgender people, per the AP.
The content comes after conservative lawmakers in several states introduced dozens of anti-LGBTQ legislation and amid a wave of threats targeting LGBTQ groups, as well as hospitals, health care workers, libraries, and private businesses that support them. "I don't think people understand the [state] of danger that we're living in right now," said Jay Brown, a senior VP at the Human Rights Campaign and a transgender man. "A lot [of] that is happening online, and online threats are turning into threats of real violence offline." Hospitals in Boston, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, DC, and other cities have received bomb threats and other harassing messages after misleading claims spread online about transgender care programs.
In Tennessee, masked members of a white supremacist group showed up recently at a holiday charity event at a bookstore because the entertainment included a drag performer. An upcoming holiday party at an adults-only gay nightclub was also the subject of threats. The party's theme? Ugly Christmas sweaters. "It's just straight-up bigotry and hatred at this point," said Jessica Patterson, one of the organizers of the event. "They just have to hate someone." There's no simple explanation for the increase in hate speech documented by researchers in recent years. Socioeconomic stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, increased political polarization, and resurgent far-right movements have all been blamed. So have politicians such as Donald Trump, whose brash use of social media emboldened extremists online.
Officials in multiple nations have cited social media as a key factor in extremist radicalization. Despite rules prohibiting hate speech or violent threats, platforms like Facebook and YouTube have struggled to identify and remove such content. In some cases, it's because people use coded language designed to evade automated content moderation. Then there's Twitter, which saw a surge in racist, antisemitic, and homophobic content following its purchase by Elon Musk, a self-described free speech absolutist. Musk himself posted a tweet this past week that mocked transgender pronouns. "I've been tracking hate-fueled extremist communities for more than 25 years, but I've never seen hate speech—let alone the calls for violence that they spark—reach the volume they have now," extremism researcher Rita Katz says. More here.
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