Policy

How Meta, Google, Twitter and TikTok are 'failing' LGBTQ+ users

A new GLAAD report finds that the biggest social media companies still lack basic policies to protect LGBTQ+ communities.

A close up photos of the trans and pride flags.

"The entire industry is failing LGBTQ people when it comes to security.”

Photo: Cecilie Johnsen/Unsplash

Tech giants spent the month of June touting their contributions to LGBTQ+ communities around the world. But a new report from GLAAD finds that the five most popular social media platforms — Facebook, Instagram, Google, TikTok and Twitter — have policies that make their platforms unsafe for LGBTQ+ users.

GLAAD’s Social Media Safety Index, which is in its second year, scored Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and TikTok on a range of policies, from prohibiting targeted deadnaming and misgendering of transgender and non-binary people to offering queer-specific training to content moderators. None of the platforms scored higher than 50% against GLAAD’s benchmarks.

“The main takeaway from all this is that the entire industry is failing LGBTQ people when it comes to security,” said Jenni Olson, senior director of the GLAAD Social Media Safety Index. “The biggest target, particularly in recent months, has been trans folks.”

In recent weeks, the actor Elliot Page has been the subject of targeted misgendering and deadnaming by conservative commentators on Twitter, leading to the actor’s deadname appearing in the top trends, despite the platform's own policy banning deadnaming. Offline, hate crimes against trans people are rising. In 2021, the Human Rights Campaign recorded fatal violence against 57 transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals in the U.S. In England and Wales, government statistics showed that hate crimes based on sexual orientation doubled between 2016 and 2021.

While all of the companies have written policies stating their commitment to LGBTQ+ users, some of them lack even the most foundational policies that GLAAD says are crucial to keeping that commitment. YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, for instance, have no policies against targeted deadnaming on their platforms. Twitter and YouTube, meanwhile, failed to meet GLAAD’s standards on both training for content moderators and having specific features for users to add pronouns to their profiles, along with privacy settings that control who sees users' pronouns.

GLAAD scored the companies, which are all current or former financial backers of the organization, based on their publicly stated policies, not their enforcement of those policies, which is not easily measurable by outside researchers.

GLAAD’s findings build on a survey of hate speech online by the Anti-Defamation League, which found that 66% of LGBTQ+ respondents have experienced harassment online, with 53% of respondents attributing the harassment to their sexual orientation.

Google didn’t respond to Protocol’s request for comment. TikTok spokesperson AB Obi-Okoye said in a statement that the platform is "committed to supporting and uplifting LGBTQ+ voices, and we work hard to create an inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ people to thrive." Meta spokesperson Erin McPike said, “We prohibit violent or dehumanizing content directed against people who identify as LGBTQ+ and remove claims about someone’s gender identity upon their request. We also work closely with our partners in the civil rights community to identify additional measures we can implement through our products and policies.” And Twitter spokesperson Elizabeth Busby said, "We are committed to combating abuse motivated by hatred, prejudice or intolerance, particularly abuse that seeks to silence the voices of those who have been historically marginalized." Busby noted that GLAAD serves on Twitter's Trust and Safety Council.

This year is the first that GLAAD is assigning specific scores to the platforms. Last year, the organization determined that all the five platforms “are categorically unsafe” and would receive failing grades. Since then, TikTok agreed to update its policies, adding the prohibition of “content that targets transgender or non-binary individuals through misgendering or deadnaming.” But progress has otherwise been largely stagnant.

Outside the U.S., tech companies also face new legislation and pressure that could lead to further censorship of LGBTQ+ users, including in Ghana where a proposed law would ban positively discussing queer life online, and in Saudi Arabia, where the government successfully pressured Amazon to remove LGBTQ+-related products and books.

GLAAD recommends that all platforms institute policies banning targeted deadnaming and misgendering and prohibiting advertising based on information about users’ sexual orientation and gender identity. The organization is also calling for increased transparency by the platforms themselves. But Olson argues the U.S. government needs to step forward on the regulatory front as well, pointing to the EU’s GDPR legislation, which governs how tech companies collect and use customer personal information, and the recently approved Digital Services Act that would police harmful content online.

“The time has come for regulatory solutions, industry oversight,” Olson said. “Social media platforms and so many other tech firms are underregulated, and that's part of the reason that they are so unsafe.”

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