Story at a glance
- GLAAD's new social media safety index evaluates several popular platforms for LGBTQ+ user safety and identifies examples of hate speech.
- The report highlighted concerns about hate speech, misinformation and harassment on several social media platforms.
- Facebook and Twitter have said they are working with GLAAD to improve some of the problems identified in the report.
Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can also make lasting damage. GLAAD’s new Social Media Safety Index breaks down how cyberbullying and hate speech can hold up a system of discrimination that threatens LGBTQ+ lives.
"The amount of dehumanizing and dangerous anti-LGBTQ hate on social media platforms is astounding," said GLAAD Senior Project Consultant Jenni Olson. "Research shows that social media companies have effective solutions they could be implementing, but they continue to prioritize profits over public safety. Ongoing pressure like GLAAD's Social Media Safety Index is necessary until LGBTQ people are safe on these platforms.”
More than two thirds of LGBTQ+ adults have reportedly encountered online hate and harassment, according to a Pew Research survey cited in the report, higher than their cisgender or heterosexual counterparts, which can range from misinformation and misgendering to hate speech and even censorship. GLAAD, an independent media watchdog, also released a list of hate speech identified on social media, singling out specific posts on platforms.
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On Facebook, the report pointed out groups dedicated to "Straight Pride" and other efforts undermining the LGBTQ+ rights movement as well as the proliferation of ads that were reported as "harmful to LGBTQ people." While there were several complaints against other social media platforms — including Tik Tok, where LGBTQ+ hashtags have been shadow banned (when a user unknowingly stops receiving likes, comments and interactions on their content) in several languages — YouTube was perhaps the most egregious offender, with several examples of LGBTQ+ censorship and failures to protect users from hateful content.
“Over the last few years, we’ve made significant progress in our ability to quickly remove hateful and harassing content against the LGBTQ+ community that violates our policies, prominently surface content in search results and recommendations from authoritative sources and limit the spread of extreme content by our recommendations. This work is ongoing and we appreciate the thoughtful feedback from GLAAD,” said a spokesperson for YouTube.
Twitter, on the other hand, was lauded for improvements to address misinformation, safety, transparency and accountability — noting the platform's ranking on the 2020 Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index as "the best of the worst."
“At Twitter we know the public conversation only reaches its full potential when every community feels safe and comfortable participating. We welcome GLAAD’s initiative and the opportunity to better understand the experiences and needs of the LGBTQ+ communities on our service,” said a spokesperson for Twitter in a statement by email, adding that the company is already engaging with GLAAD, which is a member of the Twitter Trust & Safety Council.
So what can these companies do? The report makes several recommendations, including improving protections of LGBTQ+ users in community guidelines and hate speech definitions, elevating legitimate voices while making it easier to report problematic content, improving accountability and transparency in content moderation and monetization and confronting the problems of bias in algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI).
A spokesperson for Facebook referenced several initiatives in line with these recommendations in a statement by email, including using AI to address hate speech, producing online safety guides, developing message request blocking tools on Instagram and supporting the Equality Act to ensure legal protections from discrimination.
"Finding the right balance between giving voice and taking action on harmful content is hard. This is why we partner with experts, non-profits and other stakeholders — like GLAAD — to try to get it right,” said Alex Schultz, Facebook’s Vice President of Analytics and Chief Marketing Officer, in a statement by email.
The report comes on the heels of intense public scrutiny of social media companies and platforms for their roles in the proliferation of misinformation and hateful content during the 2020 presidential election and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. At the end of the day, the report concludes, social media is still not a safe space for LGBTQ+ users.
“At a time when talk of regulation around content and ads on social media is rapidly escalating and social media platforms consider the critical and urgent calls for transformation from other marginalized communities, the unique needs of LGBTQ people have largely been invisible or fall low on the priority list,” said GLAAD CEO & President Sarah Kate Ellis. “The spread of misinformation and disinformation over social media is a leading barrier to full LGBTQ equality and acceptance. The tech industry must realize its obligation to protect LGBTQ users, and tech executives must harness their power as innovators to ameliorate the unsafe environments that have far too long persisted across social media.”
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