- A think tank report accuses Twitter of helping facilitate a public health disinformation campaign.
- In late July, narratives about the LGBTQ community, monkeypox, and “groomers” gained traction.
- Twitter removed several such tweets after Insider requested comment.
In late July, when the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a public health emergency, the conversation about the illness shifted on Twitter.
Initially, the discourse centered on efforts to bring awareness and clarify how monkeypox could be transmitted. But then the discussion was overtaken by a “public health disinformation campaign” to connect new child cases with the LGBTQ community, according to a new report that blames Twitter for facilitating this narrative shift.
The report, published by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a think tank that researches disinformation and far-right extremism, details how the most prominent Twitter conversations around the monkeypox outbreak took shape and transformed.
The baseless narrative that people in the LGBTQ community who get monkeypox are “groomers” is still prominent, and despite Twitter’s ban against using the word as an anti-LBGTQ slur, there are still numerous tweets online baselessly saying people who need the monkeypox vaccine or members of the LGBTQ community are “groomers.”
Twitter on Thursday removed five tweets that suggested people with monkeypox and members of the LGBTQ community were “groomers” for violating the Hateful Conduct policy after Insider requested comment on the tweets. Twitter did not respond to Insider’s request for comment about the ISD report.
The monkeypox narrative fits into a wider frame over the last several months, in which conservatives have been baselessly deploying “groomer” as a buzzword against Democrats and the LGBTQ community. The tactic plays on age-old false claims, trying to spark moral panic by baselessly linking the LGBTQ community to predatory behavior.
The report alleges that the “ease with which disinformation and hateful anti-LGBTQ+ narratives took over the conversation” shows “how ill equipped” Twitter is to react to narratives that attack marginalized communities.
Around July 18, days before WHO declared monkeypox an emergency, the Twitter conversation mostly focused on warning about the illness and debunking false claims about it being a sexually transmitted disease, according to the report.
But then on July 22, when the first US childrens’ monkeypox cases were diagnosed, the conversation started to shift to people linking “the infections to children being sexually abused by queer men, prompting ‘groomer’ comments,” the report states.
This accelerated after the WHO’s announcement on July 23, with tweets from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and far-right commentators tweeting asking how children were contracting monkeypox. Greene didn’t respond to Insider’s request for comment.
“If Monkeypox is a sexually transmitted disease, why are kids getting it?” Greene wrote in a tweet that has amassed over 37,000 likes and 11,000 retweets and is still online as of late August, even though monkeypox isn’t considered an STD, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease most often infects people through close physical contact.
In less than a week, by July 25, the monkeypox contraction “conversation was dominated by disinformation and anti-LGBTQ+ hate,” according to the ISD report.
A month later, there are still multiple tweets online that suggest anyone who has monkeypox is a “groomer.”