LGBTQ+ community faces increased bias on social media, author says

LGBTQ+ content creators on social media are increasingly complaining about the removal of their posts, a practice described as “digital closet” by researcher Alexander Monea.

Monea, who is a professor of English and cultural studies at George Mason University, spent two years digging through datasets and researching different anecdotes from users of major social media platforms who said they had been censored, silenced, or demonetized in various ways to write his book. , “The Digital Closet”, which details the policing of online spaces focused on the LGBTQ+ community.

“It has always been the case that these companies never release damning information unless they absolutely have to,” Monea said.

Monea’s work is an example of the burgeoning field of research that focuses on how LGBTQ+ people, including young people, sex workers and other internet users, experience the internet in a different way. heterosexual people.

“Once the internet is largely controlled by a very small number of companies who all use an advertising model to generate their revenue, you get a sort of over-policed ​​internet space,” he told the podcast. Perspective” from ABC News.

“This is a particularly difficult time for LGBTQ+ people on social media,” said Jenni Olson, senior director of social media security at GLAAD, an LGBTQ+ advocacy nonprofit.

“We do our best to monitor and hold the platforms accountable,” she said, “to point things out to them, hold their feet to the fire, and insist that they do better.”

LGBTQ+ people are more likely to experience online harassment than any other group surveyed by the Anti-Defamation League in its 2022 report.

Online harassment is experienced by 66% of LGBTQ+ people, compared to 38% of non-LGBTQ+ people, according to the report published this month.

Of the 2,330 LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ adults surveyed who were harassed on social media, 68% said they were harassed on Facebook, among other platforms, 26% named Instagram, 23% named Twitter, and 20% named YouTube .

The GLAAD Social Media Safety Index 2021 found “inadequate content moderation, polarizing algorithms and discriminatory AI that disproportionately impact LGBTQ users and other marginalized communities” across the top five social media companies: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and TikTok.

The report makes recommendations, ranging from improving community guidelines, fact-checking and content moderation to hiring a more diverse workforce.

Recently, GLAAD’s advocacy led TikTok to add community guidelines prohibiting gender-mistakes and dead names, which involves calling a trans person by their old name, according to Olson. TikTok is now joining Twitter and Pinterest in having LGBTQ+-sensitive community guidelines, Olson said.

Last week, President Joe Biden took the first steps in creating a working group which would investigate online harassment and abuse, particularly targeting women, young people and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

The day before, he had signed a decree to “advance equality” for LGBTQ+ Americans, with provisions to prevent the practice of “conversion therapy” and expand support services for LGBTQ+ youth.

In their recent survey of content across Meta, Facebook and Instagram platforms, published over the past year, the non-profit media monitoring organization Media Matters uncovered nearly 1,000 breaches of Facebook’s own policy. company on hate speech, including anti-LGBTQ+ content that includes misinformation.

A spokesperson for Meta told ABC News “our policies prohibit hate speech and harassment on Facebook and Instagram,” and cited statistics that “in the last quarter alone, the prevalence of harassing content and bullying decreased to 0.09% on Facebook and around 0.05% on Instagram, and the prevalence of hate speech was 0.02% on Facebook and Instagram thanks to significant efforts on our part.”

“We are committed to improving our policies so that people feel safe on our platforms. We will continue to work with civil rights organizations to address speech and social media issues,” they added.

PHOTO: A teenage girl on a computer in an undated photo.

Alexander Monea’s research largely focuses on the various mechanisms, ranging from advertising inducements to pressure from conservative lawmakers, which he says have created a dynamic he calls “heteronormative enforcement.”

This dynamic falls into three categories which he describes as over-blocking of LGBTQ+ content online, uneven application of content that falls into a gray area of ​​“things that talk about sex and pornography but aren’t sex and pornography” and bottleneck content that promotes heterosexual porn.

“The internet is largely controlled by a very small number of companies that all use an advertising model to generate their revenue,” he said, “which translates into ‘a kind of over-policed ​​internet space.’

A report 2019 by cybersecurity intelligence firm found that 73% of safe LGBTQ+-related news articles were blocked for hosting ads.

Monea says it has discovered that queer creators, who rely on the internet to distribute their content, frequently complain about their posts being taken down.

This dynamic has created what he describes as a “digital closet,” in which LGBTQ+ users struggle to produce and distribute content online, and connect on social media without facing harassment and harassment. disinformation.

Alejandra Caraballo, a professor at Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic who identifies as trans, said one of her tweets directed at Christina Pushaw, spokeswoman for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, was deleted last week without explanation.

Caraballo’s original tweet, which she shared with ABC News via email, read, “@ChristinaPushaw This was taken from a widely circulated Nazi meme 3 years ago from a Facebook post by a burlesque dancer who is a cis woman. It wasn’t a drag, and it didn’t happen in Dallas either. Do you mean why you share Nazi disinformation and propaganda? »

Pushaw’s original tweet, which features a photo of a performer at a burlesque show posted alongside a tweet about DeSantis’ statement on drag shows, was not taken down at the time of publication. This article.

“I was targeted specifically for this moderation,” Caraballo says, “and it felt highly political.”

Caraballo, whose Twitter account is @Esqueer_, says she was targeted because she publicly identifies as trans, and because the intent of her post was to stop what she calls an “anti-smear smear.” -LGBTQ+”.

“Keeping people safe on Twitter and combating content that can cause harm offline continue to be top priorities for our teams,” a Twitter spokesperson told ABC News.

“We are committed to combating abuses motivated by hatred, prejudice or intolerance, especially abuses that seek to silence the voices of those who have been historically marginalized.”

Twitter declined to comment on Alejandra Caraballo’s case.

Linda Charmaraman, Director of Youth, Wellesley College Media & Wellbeing Research Lab, recently completed a research study that found LGBTQ+ youth were more likely to have small online social networks and share less personal information.

Although Charmaraman’s research did not find that LGBTQ+ youth experienced different levels of online bullying, Charmaraman attributes the findings to “the history of sexual minorities facing many types of bullying in and out of school. school,” she said.

The upside, she adds, is that these young people are “more likely to join online groups that make them feel less alone, so they can actually seek out places they belong online.”

Lola R. McClure