Online Safety: Social media’s failure to protect LGBTQ+ users revealed


A new report from GLAAD, the world’s largest LGBTQ+ media advocacy organisation, sheds light on the alarming failure of major social media platforms to protect LGBTQ+ individuals from hate speech and online harm.

The findings of the third annual Social Media Safety Index (SMSI) highlight the dire consequences of unchecked online hate and misinformation, emphasising the urgent need for change.

The Disturbing Reality

According to GLAAD’s SMSI, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and Twitter have all received low and failing scores on the Platform Scorecard for the second year in a row. These platforms have demonstrated insufficient efforts to safeguard LGBTQ+ users from hate speech and have failed to prioritise the protection of transgender, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming individuals. The report uncovers the extent to which anti-LGBTQ+ online hate speech translates into real-world harm and violence, perpetuating a cycle of discrimination and prejudice.

Twitter: The Most Dangerous Platform

Among the five major platforms assessed, Twitter has emerged as the most dangerous for LGBTQ+ people. Shockingly, Twitter’s scores have declined since the previous year, indicating a worsening situation.

“Dehumanising anti-LGBTQ content on social media such as misinformation and hate have an outsised impact on real world violence and harmful anti-LGBTQ legislation, but social media platforms too often fail at enforcing their own policies regarding such content,” says GLAAD President and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis: “Especially as many of the companies behind these platforms recognise Pride month, they should recognise their roles in creating a dangerous environment for LGBTQ Americans and urgently take meaningful action.”

Real-World Consequences

The impact of online hate speech extends far beyond the digital realm. LGBTQ+ individuals face a chilling effect on their freedom of expression, often fearing targeted attacks. GLAAD’s report highlights over 160 acts or threats of violence against LGBTQ+ events in 2023 alone. Furthermore, a recent study by GLAAD revealed that 86% of non-LGBTQ+ Americans believe that exposure to online hate content leads to real-world violence. False narratives and conspiracy theories that portray LGBTQ+ individuals as “groomers” continue to circulate freely on social media, causing tangible harm to the community.

Ineffective Policies and Inconsistencies

GLAAD’s SMSI uncovers inconsistencies and ineffective policies across various social media platforms. While some platforms have policies in place to address hate speech, they often fail to enforce them adequately. Moreover, LGBTQ+ content is disproportionately suppressed, with posts and comments being removed, demonetised, or shadowbanned without proper notification. The report highlights the urgent need for effective regulatory oversight of the tech industry to prioritise user safety over corporate profits.

GLAAD’s Recommendations

To rectify the situation, GLAAD provides specific recommendations for social media platforms:

  • Strengthen and enforce existing policies against hate speech, harassment, and misinformation.
  • Improve content moderation by training moderators on the needs of LGBTQ+ users and avoiding overreliance on AI alone.
  • Enhance transparency by collaborating with independent researchers to provide insight into content moderation, algorithm design, and enforcement reports.
  • Prioritise user privacy by reducing data collection, implementing end-to-end encryption for private messaging, and discontinuing targeted surveillance advertising.
  • Promote civil discourse and proactively enforce hate and harassment policies, establishing clear expectations for user behavior.

The findings of GLAAD’s Social Media Safety Index expose the deep-rooted issues plaguing major social media platforms regarding the safety and protection of LGBTQ+ users. It is imperative for these platforms to acknowledge their shortcomings and take action to create a safer online environment.

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