AOC condemns ‘incitement of violence’ against trans people during GOP-led hearing on Twitter

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Democratic US Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez criticised Twitter for its refusal to permanently suspend an influential account linked to anti-LGBT+ smears and threats of violence, including bomb threats at children’s hospitals.

During a House Oversight Committee hearing on 8 February, the New York congresswoman questioned former executives at the social media platform why “Libs of TikTok” was allowed to falsely suggest that Boston Children’s Hospital was performing hysterectomies on transgender children, claims that allegedly fuelled threats and harassment towards the hospital and its staff.

Ms Ocasio-Cortez asked Twitter’s former head of safety Yoel Roth why the account was not suspended “despite inspiring a bomb threat due to the right-wing incitement of violence against trans Americans.” Mr Roth said that “regrettably” the account remained active.

The hospital has faced dozens of hoax threats, including harassing phone calls and emails, individual death threats and threats of mass casualty attacks, according to federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials.

Children’s National Hospital in Washington DC has also been the target of an online harassment campaign over its gender-affirming care services. Violent posts on far-right message boards and on mainstream social media platforms have also accelerated calls for doctors to be imprisoned or killed.

Despite attempts to debunk statements and articles shared by influential far-right accounts, which have also fuelled “groomer” attacks used to falsely smear LGBT+ people and advocates as pedophiles, the claims have persisted across social media.

Ms Ocasio-Cortez accused Republican lawmakers of trying to “co-opt” the social media platform while leveraging the power of the committee to advance its agenda.

Right-wing officials and personalities “cannot let go of this obsession … with inciting violence against trans people,” she said.

“This is the party that can’t pick on anyone their own size,” she added. “They are trying to co-opt an entire social media platform and use the power of this committee and of Congress to pursue a political agenda.”

Following the congresswoman’s remarks, the Libs of TikTok account shared a series of posts mocking Ms Ocasio-Cortez and suggested that her remarks constitute defamation.

The committee was convened by Republican lawmakers in an attempt to grill former Twitter executives about the company’s 2020 decisions to prevent users from sharing a controversial story about Joe Biden’s son Hunter published in The New York Post – including explicit photos of Hunter, allegedly obtained from a laptop that belonged to him.

The hearing sought to expose what GOP officials and right-wing personalities have characterised as Silicon Valley’s campaign of “censorship” against conservative voices.

But former executives testified that Twitter changed its policies to do the opposite. Anika Collier Navaroli told the panel that the company changed a user policy to accommodate former president Donald Trump in 2019 after he said four congresswomen should “go back” to the “crime infested places from which they came.”

Ms Collier Navaroli said that she recommended that Twitter apply a label to his post, which was rejected, she testified to the panel during questioning from Ms Ocasio-Cortez.

She also testified that the Trump White House contacted Twitter to remove a post from Chrissy Teigen, who mocked then-President Trump in a tweet calling him a “p**** a** b****”. Twitter ultimately decided against removing it, but Democratic lawmakers on the panel pointed to the incident – which had not been previously reported – as evidence of GOP hypocrisy when it comes to allegations of censorship.

“Twitter’s leadership bent and broke their own rules in order to protect some of the most dangerous speech on the platform,” she said, pointing to rhetoric across Twitter including from Mr Trump in the months leading up to the attack on the US Capitol on 6 January 2021.

Ms Ocasio-Cortez said the hearing is “an abuse of public resources”.

“We could be talking about healthcare … We could be talking abortion rights, civil rights, voting rights, but instead we’re talking about Hunter Biden’s half-fake laptop story,” she said. “I mean, this is an embarrassment.”