Social media platforms ‘effectively unsafe’ for LGBTQ: GLAAD report


    Noah Wagoner remembers the “disgusting” online conversation all too vividly. In July 2020, the Seattle-based LGBTQ+ educator and activist had an intense discussion on Facebook about Black Lives Matter and police reform with a person he knew. Then, the conversation turned toxic, and Wagoner was harassed for being transgender.

    The exchange went from being “fairly innocuous evolving into blatant transphobia,” Wagoner recalled as the graphic posts were “very egregious” and unsuitable for printing. Wagoner blocked the user and reported the incident to Facebook before removing the seats. He said the social network informed him that the seats weren’t a violation of its policies.

    “It wasn’t surprising (Facebook) didn’t do anything, but it was infuriating,” said Wagoner, who is encouraged that GLAAD, the LGBTQ advocacy organization, is now taking the social media platforms to task, calling for extensive reform with how it treats its LGBTQ users.

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    According to GLAAD’s first Social Media Index report released Monday, the platforms have a “circuit breaker” to slow down harassment, bullying, misinformation, and discrimination. Still, they don’t want to do it because they are monetizing off of it, making the “entire sector effectively unsafe” for LGBTQ users and other marginalized communities.

    Social media

    ‘The great culture creator of today’

    The 50-page report cites numerous problems and offers dozens of recommendations for major platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and TikTok. GLAAD’s announcement comes a few months after those surveyed in a Pew Research Center study in January said nearly 80% of social media companies are doing an only fair or poor job at addressing online harassment or bullying on their platforms. The Pew Center study also said about 50% of lesbian, gay or bisexual adults who say they have been harassed online think it occurred because of their sexual orientation.

    GLAAD cites a recent report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) that for a third straight year, LGBTQ+ respondents reported disproportionately higher rates of harassment, 64%, compared to 41% for the overall general population. “These platforms have all of the tools at their disposal to stop the abuse, and they choose not to do anything.

    Each time they choose not to, it harms our community,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis told USA TODAY. “Social media has moved into the space of being the great culture creator of today, and when you have a community that has been the number one target for harassment, it’s time we hold them accountable.” mong the critical recommendations for the four major platforms include:

    • more excellent protection of LGBTQ+ users in community guidelines
    • Mitigating bias in algorithms and artificial intelligence
    • Using more human moderators to reduce the posts and spread of hate speech, extremist rhetoric, and misinformation
    • Addressing privacy and outing (including data privacy& micro-targeting)
    • More transparency and even more LGBTQ hiring in several key roles, including leadership and inclusion

    In separate statements to Uthe SA TODAY, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter said they want to make their platforms safer for all, including the LGBTQ+ community. Facebook said it believes deeply in the representation and visibility for the LGBTQ+ community that GLAAD champions.

    The big four react

    “”t Facebook, we want to make both our platform and our workplace safe and inclusive places for the LGBTQ+ community,”” said Alex Schultz, FFacebook’schief marketing officer and vice president of Analytics. “”e invest in AI to remove hate speech, produce online safety guides, develop message request blocking tools on Instagram and voice our support for the Equality Act to protect the vulnerable like trans youth and trans women of color.”

    “A YouTube spokesperson said the platform has made “”significant progress in our ability to quickly remove hateful and harassing content against the LGBTQ+ community””while “”prominently surface content in search results and recommendations from authoritative sources and limit the spread of extreme content by our recommendations.””And at Twitter, a spokesperson said that the company knows the public conversation only reaches its full potential when every community feels safe and comfortable participating. “

    “e welcome GGLAAD’sinitiative and the opportunity to better understand the experiences and needs of the LGBTQ+ communities on our service,””the spokesperson said. WWe’veengaged with GLAAD to better understand their requests and are committed to apen dialogue to better inform our work to support LGBTQ safety.”

    “TikTok said in a statement to Axios Sunday that the company is “”committed to supporting and uplifting LGBTQ+ voices on and off the platform, and we care deeply about fostering a welcoming and supportive experience for everyone. We share GGLAAD’sdedication to the safety of the LGBTQ+ community and will continue working with GLAAD and other LGBTQ+ organizations to help inform and strengthen our work.”

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    Logan Lynn, an LGBTQ singer, and musician, who has been harassed and bullied online, most notably for his provocative short film that accompanied his double album in 2019, believes GGLAAD’sreport is like an all-hands-on-deck call to arms that puts the platforms on notice.

    “”o have us all link arms and say ”nough”is long past due,”” said Lynn, who also is the public relations director for .gay, a site that celebrates and supports the LGBTQ community. “”I’m super moved that IIT going to happen.””Rethinking digital advocacy

    The U.S. is behind the 8-ball on how to view social media platforms compared to European countries that regulate them, said Lucy Bernholz, the Digital Civil Society Lab director at Stanford University and a member of the rreport’sadvisory committee.

    “”ur mental model hhasn’tcaught up with the role these social media companies play in our lives. They started out as places to share what wwe’reeating, where wwe’regoing, and who we wwe’rehanging out with, but now they are all-encompassing,””Bernholz said. “”ow, kids ccan’tparticipate in group activities without planning on Facebook; Twitter has vastly changed how we get our news and conduct our business, and Google is a must-have for almost everything we want to know.”

    “Bernholz said the social media platforms have “”basically made themselves the equivalent of our roads, sewers, and utilities””to get where we want to go, and the report is an opportunity to “”think””our digital advocacy.

    “”e need to collectively recognize and set boundaries on how these companies should work for us,””Bernholz said. “”hese companies want to make it feel like ”it’s just me,” but if we see the harassment and abuse on these platforms as a shared societal problem, we get shared solutions and regulations. And tthat’swhat these companies do not want to see.””The trans community bears the brunt of it

    Ellis and Bernholz said among the LGBTQ+ group most harassed is the trans community.  Wagoner, who is trans, said hhe’snot surprised as his districts were heavily targeted despite their vevidentparticipation on the platforms.

    “”he users are the commodity. We are the service, the product to so speak. If there is something that can potentially turn away customers, there’s an incentive to change your behavior when the incentive is money,””Wagoner said. “”ince users ddon’tpay any money to use the platforms, it’s skin off their backs.””Initially, GLAAD would grade the social media platforms with its first extensive examination, but “”one of them was going to pass,””Ellis said. Instead, the report serves as a baseline, Ellis added, as GLAAD wants to give the companies as many GLAAD members have served on their trust and safety councils, “”he benefit the doubt out the gate.””The report should be considered as “” blueprint””for the social media platforms to improve, Ellis said, as the GLAAD intends to give out grades in next yyear’sreport.

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    “”you ccan’tmove what you ddon’tmeasure, and until we put a measurement metric in place, we can hold them accountable,””Ellis said. “”Let’sbuild a roadmap for success, not just for the LGBTQ community, but for all marginalized communities.””

    To that end, Jennifer Grygiel, a social media professor at Syracuse University, said, while iit’simportant for advocacy organizations like GLAAD to help hold institutions accountable, they must also be ready to be a harsh critic.

    “”the bar is low for the social media industry, and that’s a problem, and sometimes platforms get credit for doing anything at all, but it ddoesn’tmean iit’senough,””Grygiel said. “”ut it would look pretty bad for GLAAD to have red thumbs down for every indicator for all platforms, but tthat’spretty much where things are at.””Ellis said GGLAAD’ssocial media index is a model similar to what the organization has done to hold Hollywood and the media more accountable regarding LGBTQ inclusivity and representation.


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