Twitter’s Troublesome Transgender Policy

In a recent interview with CNN, Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, admitted that the staff at his company suffer from a “left-leaning bias” [1]. Soon after, he said the conservative employees at Twitter “don’t feel safe to express their opinions” [2]. While Dorsey’s comments have many up in arms, it’s important to note the legal connotations of his statements. Twitter is classified as a  “platform” rather than a “publisher” due to §230 of the Communications and Decency Act, giving them certain legal protections, namely, that they are not liable for content provided by their users [3]. The law also allows Twitter to remove “offensive” content from its platform, if done in a fair and unbiased manner. However, we cannot allow multi-billion dollar companies to control the narrative by restricting dialogue in the name of sensitivity, especially when subjectivity is preferred over scientific objectivity.

It started in December 2015, when Twitter released it’s “Hateful Conduct and Abuse” policy to counteract rising abuse and harassment towards certain groups and individuals [4]. Jack Dorsey and other Twitter executives strongly support this policy, claiming that they want everyone to use their voice online and that users should be limited only when their account is used to silence or harass someone else [5]. Reading on, the policy states that any sort of harmful targeting is prohibited, including, “[the] targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals” [6]. Unfortunately, public opinion in the U.S. is far from unanimous regarding transgenderism rights and protections. 

Unlike other countries, America splits the transgender debate down party lines. A Pew Research study found that eighty percent of Republicans say that sex is assigned at birth, while sixty-four percent of Democrats say that it can change. The study also shows that sixty percent of Democrats say that society has not gone far enough in accepting transgender people, while fifty-seven percent of Republicans say that society has gone too far in working to accept transgender people [7]. The next question is: how does this dialogue fare on Twitter?

Look no further than the cases of Megan Murphy, a prominent liberal feminist, and Jamie Shupe, the first legal “non-binary” individual in the U.S. Megan Murphy tweeted about the situation of Jonathan Yaniv, a transgender woman seeking financial retribution from several beauty parlors that refused to give Yaniv a Brazilian wax—a treatment typical of women wearing small bikini bottoms—as Yaniv still had male genitalia [8]. After learning that female estheticians were being sued for refusing to wax Yaniv’s scrotum, Murphy tweeted “Men aren’t Women,” causing Murphy to be banned from Twitter. Admittedly, Murphy had a history of posting tweets which have been perceived as transphobic, like claiming that transgender women should not be allowed in biological women’s spaces [9]. Murphy, a devout feminist, claims she is fighting to protect the hard-fought rights of biological women from biological men who suddenly identify as women.

Jamie Shupe was banned for sharing an even simpler and less offensive opinion. Shupe, a biological male, served in the military for seventeen years, later transitioned to female, then legally identified as “non-binary,” and finally decided to realign with his male birth gender. After re-registering himself as a male on Twitter, someone asked Shupe his thoughts on gender dysphoria, to which Shupe replied: “Yes. I consider gender dysphoria a mental illness. That’s why I don’t support people with GD serving in the military. I also think it can be a learned behavior and can afflict anyone of any age.” Shupe was locked out of his account after posting this tweet. Which is ironic, considering Shupe, a military veteran, was diagnosed with gender dysphoria and even received treatment for this at a Veterans Administration mental-health clinic [10]. Given his life experiences, Shupe brings a unique and qualified viewpoint to the table. It’s disheartening to realize that Twitter deems this insightful claim as inappropriate.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Matal v. Tam compounded the issue. While the case deals with disallowing offensive trademarks, the decision reinforced the idea that speech, even the most offensive hate speech, is protected by the First Amendment. Writing for the unanimous court, Justice Alito wrote that the idea of the government restricting offensive speech “strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought we hate’” [11].

Having admitted its own confirmation bias, Twitter no longer deserves the protections provided by §230 of the Communications and Decency Act and needs to be reclassified as a publisher rather than a platform. Society enters murky waters when it allows “a handful of people in Silicon Valley” to decide what a third of the earth’s population has the right to talk about [12]. 

[1] https://thehill.com/policy/technology/402495-twitter-ceo-jack-dorsey-i-fully-admit-our-bias-is-more-left-leaning 

[2] https://www.recode.net/2018/9/14/17857486/twitter-jack-dorsey-nyu-jay-rosen-bias-neutrality-presence-politics-recode-media-podcast 

[3] https://www.minclaw.com/legal-resource-center/what-is-section-230-of-the-communication-decency-act-cda/ 

[4] https://help.twitter.com/en/rules-and-policies/hateful-conduct-policy 

[5] http://podcasts.joerogan.net/podcasts/jack-dorsey-vijaya-gadde-tim-pool

[6] https://help.twitter.com/en/rules-and-policies/hateful-conduct-policy  

[7] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/11/08/transgender-issues-divide-republicans-and-democrats/ 

[8] https://spectator.us/meghan-murphy-twitter/ 

[9] http://thefederalist.com/2018/11/25/twitter-permanently-bans-feminist-writing-men-arent-women/

[10] https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/02/twitter-bans-users-for-transgender-heresies-meghan-murphy/ 

[11] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/06/19/supreme-court-unanimously-reaffirms-there-is-no-hate-speech-exception-to-the-first-amendment/?utm_term=.852e8aa67e4f 

[12] https://www.forbes.com/sites/kalevleetaru/2018/01/12/is-twitter-really-censoring-free-speech/#545d4e7465f5

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Taylor Petersen

TAYLOR PETERSEN, Editor-in-chief, is a senior from Southern California. Having spent most of his life in San Diego, he loves being outdoors, preferably in the water. A Political Science major, he enjoys the vast amounts of research and writing that have accompanied him while at BYU. Although he believes himself to be a connoisseur of Mexican food, you can often catch him sneaking through the Del Taco or Taco Bell drive thru. His passion lies in intellectual expansion and the encouragement of meaningful dialogue, which he hopes to continue in law school next fall.

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Taylor Petersen

TAYLOR PETERSEN, Editor-in-chief, is a senior from Southern California. Having spent most of his life in San Diego, he loves being outdoors, preferably in the water. A Political Science major, he enjoys the vast amounts of research and writing that have accompanied him while at BYU. Although he believes himself to be a connoisseur of Mexican food, you can often catch him sneaking through the Del Taco or Taco Bell drive thru. His passion lies in intellectual expansion and the encouragement of meaningful dialogue, which he hopes to continue in law school next fall.

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