Social media plays a vital role in the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals. It helps them engage with other members and seek support while organising various advocacies necessary for their rights and visibility. However, studies have shown LGBTQ+ youth to be three times more likely to be cyberbullied than their peers with various case studies outlining how platforms often silence LGBTQ+ voices by deeming them as “inappropriate content.” These experiences are also said to initiate depression, drug misuse, unsafe sexual behaviour and poor academic performances among members of the community.
In a bid to analyse top social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube, leading LGBTQ+ rights organisation GLAAD has come up with a Social Media Safety Index. Here’s how it analyses and ranks platforms and the urgent changes it could potentially lead to.
GLAAD’s Social Media Safety Index (SMSI) is a report that analyses social media platforms based on how safe they are for LGBTQ+ users. Dubbed the “first-ever baseline evaluation of the LGBTQ user safety experience across the social media landscape,” the index seeks to provide recommendations for policy and product updates to tech giants.
“Social media is a lifeline for LGBTQ people, but too often we face real harm that goes unchecked by the platforms,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD’s President and CEO. In a blog post, Ellis highlighted how policies and product updates surrounding the LGBTQ+ community have been on the low-priority list despite tech giants waking up to the issues faced by marginalised communities on their platforms.
“Drawing on GLAAD’s proven track record of leveraging similar reports and programs to advance LGBTQ inclusion in Hollywood, our Social Media Safety Index will hold social media platforms accountable and provide a roadmap for creating safer and more inclusive online spaces,” Ellis added.
Is it possible to measure the types of abuse inflicted on LGBTQ+ users on various platforms though? In an interview with Axios, Ellis noted the presence of policy differences between social media platforms. “For example, Twitter has added a policy against intentionally misgendering someone, while such behavior clearly isn’t against the rules of Facebook and YouTube.”
GLAAD thereby crafted the index by pulling together an advisory committee—coupled with the review of various reports, journalism and findings across the field of social media safety. The reports begin with a selection of broad recommendations that tackle various realms including LGBTQ+ self-expression, privacy, outing, hiring, inclusion and leadership, among others. These general recommendations are then followed by a list of platform-specific recommendations, emphasising what companies can and must do to address the problems.
On 9 May 2021, GLAAD analysed top social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube to publish key findings and recommendations as part of the inaugural Social Media Safety Index. Although GLAAD had planned on rating each of these platforms, it scrapped the idea after determining that all of them would receive a “failing grade.”
“They are categorically unsafe across the board,” Ellis said in an interview with Axios, outlining how all five platforms classify themselves as LGBTQ-friendly while allowing LGBTQ+ users to be harassed on a daily basis. These sites were further found to spread harmful misinformation among users. “What shocked me the most about all of this is that at the end of the day, these companies have the tools to stop it immediately,” Ellis added.
Following months of analysis of the platforms, their policies and track record of enforcing them, GLAAD listed out recommendations specific to each service. After analysing Facebook’s community guidelines, algorithmic and AI biases, GLAAD suggested various guidelines including third-party fact-checking, employment of qualified human moderators and continuing their efforts at diversifying their workforce.
As for YouTube, the organisation suggested labelling content, pointing users to trusted sources and stopping the block of words like ‘gay’ and ‘transgender’. Over at Twitter and Instagram, recommendations mainly included improving the process of reporting, refining the algorithm to reduce (rather than spread) hate and updating their community guidelines to better suit the context. For TikTok, GLAAD suggested avoiding shadowbanning legitimate users and over-policing LGBTQ hashtags.
The report also gave a list of “thumbs up” for various policies the organisation believes are positive steps in the direction. This list includes Twitter’s rules against dehumanising, YouTube’s attempt at LGBTQ education and allyship as well as Facebook and Instagram’s pride stickers, GIFs and hashtags—thereby encouraging other platforms to adapt the same.
All five platforms in question have responded to GLAAD’s report. “We believe deeply in the representation of and visibility for the LGBTQ+ community that GLAAD champions,” Alex Schultz, CMO of Facebook and Instagram, said in a statement to Axios. “Finding the right balance between giving voice and taking action on harmful content is hard. This is why we partner with experts, nonprofits and other stakeholders like GLAAD to try and get it right.”
YouTube highlighted how the platform has made significant progress in its ability to quickly remove hateful and harassing content from search results and recommendations against the LGBTQ+ community. Twitter and TikTok further welcomed GLAAD’s initiative to better understand the experiences and needs of the LGBTQ+ communities on their services.
With that being said, Ellis believes that social media can still be an important gathering place for LGBTQ+ individuals. “There are bright spots,” she said. “There are so many kids who share their transition and coming out stories. And I think it’s really important to inspire other kids or other people to be their true and authentic self.”
Although the negatives outweigh the positives at the moment, GLAAD hopes to work with all five platforms over the next year to reach a stage that is inclusive and empowering to the LGBTQ+ community. And with Tumblr staking its claims as “the queerest place on the internet”—by embracing the fact that one out of four users is LGBTQIA+—that stage might just be closer than it appears.
Today is International Transgender Day of Visibility, a day dedicated to celebrating transgender people and raising awareness of the discrimination they face worldwide, as well as a celebration of their contributions to society. Today is about more than visibility—it’s about encouraging others to take part in the fight against transphobia and do as much as they can to create a trans-inclusive society. That’s why, whether you’re already working towards this goal or not, we’ve created an introductory guide to being a good ally to trans people, so you can either catch up on the steps you should have taken a while ago, or simply share it with other people who might not be there yet.
This one might seem obvious to some of you, but being able to listen to someone’s journey and struggles is the most important step towards understanding the unfairness they’re victims of and helping them. In order to be a good ally to trans people, make sure you’re actually centring them instead of you and the role you play in the fight for trans inclusivity.
Of course, listening in allyship means more than just hearing what a trans person says when something is wrong—it means that there is a continuous conversation happening and action being taken about things that may affect trans people, such as the language people use, having bathrooms accessible to people of all genders, and creating an environment that feels safe for trans people to vocalise their issues.
Everyone’s experience is different, and the same applies to trans people. When you listen to them, don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. Ask them how best you can help them instead, and listen! “People come from different backgrounds and have different experiences, and therefore have different needs,” writes GLAAD.
As an ally, you’re bound to mess up somewhere. That’s okay, as long as you’re ready to apologise, learn from it, and move on. Constantly working towards educating yourself is key here. However, there are a few things you really need to avoid in order to be respectful and considerate. When using someone’s wrong pronouns, don’t try to justify yourself by saying something along the lines of ‘I’m just not used to using this pronoun yet’. Just listen to whoever is correcting you, apologise, and acknowledge that you’ve got the hang of it from now on. No need to make things awkward with your friend, just continue the conversation using the right pronouns this time.
Just because you’ve never heard about certain identities before does not mean that they’ve never existed. Resources to understand trans people and all the specific identities that are under the trans umbrella exist. It isn’t something that you will become fully aware of overnight, and that’s okay, but what matters is that, as an ally, you make sure you are putting in effort to learn and understand.
That being said, trans people don’t owe you anything, which means that they don’t necessarily have to be the ones teaching you more about queerness and transness. It’s up to you to make the effort of researching whatever questions you need answered. Having to explain your identity can be extremely emotionally and mentally laborious. If anyone takes the time to explain their identity to you, make sure to not take that for granted.
Easy one. Introducing yourself along with your pronouns can make a more inclusive and safe environment for trans people to also share their pronouns. By normalising the practice, you not only lighten the pressure on trans people but also lower the chances for unintentional misgendering to happen.
You can also add your pronouns on your social media bios or in your email signature to help foster a more trans-friendly social media environment.
Society has taught us to use some gender-exclusive terms such as ‘guys’, ‘bro’ or even ‘sis’. Changing some of the words that you use can make a better, more trans-inclusive environment. Saying ‘Hey y’all’ or ‘Welcome everyone’ is a good start.
Same applies to topics like reproductive health. For example, “take the ‘feminine’ out of ‘feminine hygiene products’,” writes GLAAD. You can also just say pads and tampons. This distinction is a reminder that many trans men and non-binary people also have periods and use these products, implying that there is nothing feminine about these objects.
Gender identity and sexual orientation are two different things. Sexual orientation is about who we’re attracted to, and gender identity is about our own personal sense of being a man or a woman, or neither of those binary genders.
Finally, it’s important to understand that allyship doesn’t end there. Showing up for the trans community by going to rallies and protests for trans people is crucial. Use your own privilege to uplift trans voices and bring awareness to their issues. Donate to various non-profits centring trans people if you can.
You can check out GLAAD’s list of resources for transgender people and their allies. If you work in the media industry, check GLAAD’s list of resources for covering transgender people in the media. Furthermore, if you see defamation of trans people in the media, report it! You can also find more ways to be a good ally here.
Happy International Transgender Day of Visibility 2021!