X quietly revives anti-misgendering policy that Musk dropped last year

Social media platform X has quietly reinstated its ban on deadnaming (calling transgender folk by a former name) and misgendering (purposely using non-preferred pronouns or gender labels when referring to transgender folk).

Social media platform X has quietly reinstated its ban on deadnaming (calling transgender folk by a former name) and misgendering (purposely using non-preferred pronouns or gender labels when referring to transgender folk).

X added a section titled “Use of Prior Names and Pronouns” to its policies on abusive behaviour sometime in late January, according to the Wayback Machine.

The change, first reported by Ars Technica, states that X 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 change is a partial reversal of Musk’s initial edit of the company’s Hateful Conduct policy, which removed a ban on “targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals” (although the policy did still ban direct attacks on people on the basis of gender or gender identity; the dehumanization of a group of people based on gender or gender identity; and hateful imagery that promotes hostility and malice against people based on gender identity).

This U-turn appears at first glance to be at odds with the billionaire and self-styled free speech absolutist’s stated goal of prioritising free speech on the platform.

Pre-Musk era Twitter all too often banned or suspended so-called ‘gender critical’ accounts on the basis that it is ‘hateful’ and ‘transphobic’ to reject the central tenet of gender identity ideology, namely, that sex is a social construct, and to argue instead that sex is binary and immutable.

It’s certainly true that gender critical feminists believe sex-based women rights should take priority over trans rights – but that doesn’t make them ‘hateful’ or ‘transphobic’, any more than holding the opposite view makes a person ‘misogynistic’. Rather, they are opposing points of view rooted in two different understandings of how sex should be defined and what the implications are of accepting one definition and rejecting the other with respect to the admission of transwomen to women’s sports, women’s changing rooms and women’s prisons.

In banning gender critical accounts because they ‘misgendered’ or ‘deadnamed’ trans people – Twitter was appealing to an imaginary consensus in favour of the view that it is transphobic to define sex as biological and immutable, or that self-declared gender identity should determine access to single sex spaces and services, or that people are entitled to compel others to use their preferred gender pronouns. No such consensus exists, which suggested to many people – the FSU included – that the reason so many gender critical accounts were banned is because Twitter’s content moderators had taken the side of the transrights activists in this debate.

Initially, Musk appeared to accept these points.

Following completion of his takeover, he dropped the company’s ban on deadnaming and misgendering users, and announced an Amnesty to all suspended/banned Twitter accounts provided they had not “broken the law or engaged in egregious spam” (Telegraph). Over the following weeks and months, the company welcomed back a number of gender critical commentators, including women’s rights activist Kellie-Jay Keen, comedy writer Graham Linehan, journalist Meghan Murphy, barrister Dennis Kavanagh, and philosopher Holly Lawford-Smith.

Following a content moderation dispute with conservative media outlet Daily Wire in June 2023, Musk reaffirmed that this was how X intended to approach the expression of gender critical beliefs. The dispute focused on the forthcoming release of the documentary “What Is a Woman?”, which X warned would be labelled as “hateful content” due to two instances of misgendering.

When the Daily Wire went public with the news, Musk intervened. “This was a mistake by many people at Twitter. It is definitely allowed,” he wrote on X, adding: “Whether or not you agree with using someone’s preferred pronouns, not doing so is at most rude and certainly breaks no laws. I should note that I do personally use someone’s preferred pronouns, just as I use someone’s preferred name, simply from the standpoint of good manners. However, for the same reason, I object to rude behaviour, ostracism or threats of violence if the wrong pronoun or name is used.”

It is not known what caused X’s recent about turn, although US-based LGBTQ+ campaign group GLAAD has for years focused its efforts on getting social media companies to explicitly recognise misgendering and deadnaming as hate speech.

Following a recent round of outreach targeted at smaller platforms late last year, GLAAD advised Snapchat on a policy change prohibiting “any abuse in the form of intentional deadnaming or misgendering”.

Discord also recently announced it had been working with GLAAD, and that under its new ‘hate speech’ policy, users “may not post, share, or engage in” behaviour such as: “Repeatedly using slurs to degrade and demean individuals or groups. This includes deadnaming or misgendering a transgender person”.