Exclusive: GLAAD finds top social media sites "categorically unsafe"
The leading social media sites — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube — are all "categorically unsafe" for LGBTQ people, according to a new study from GLAAD, the results of which were revealed Sunday on "Axios on HBO."
The big picture: GLAAD had planned to give each of the sites a grade as part of its inaugural social media index, but opted not to give individual grades this year after determining all the leading sites would receive a failing grade.
- "They are categorically unsafe, across the board," GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said. The findings follow a several month effort by GLAAD and a team of outside experts who looked at each of the sites, their policies and track record of enforcing those policies.
Ellis said that all of the sites hold themselves out as LGBTQ-friendly and nonetheless allow for LGBTQ people to be harassed on a daily basis as well as allowing harmful misinformation to spread unchecked.
- "What shocked me the most about all of this is at the end of the day, these companies have the tools to stop it," Ellis said.
Details: In the 50-page report, GLAAD lays out a variety of recommendations for all the platforms, in addition to suggestions specific to each service. The broad recommendations include everything from tweaking algorithms to slow down the spread of misinformation, hiring more human moderators and better enforcing existing harassment and discrimination policies.
- The report also gives a "thumbs up" for various things that GLAAD believes are positive steps, including Twitter's rules against dehumanizing, including intentionally misgendering transgender people. Although not universally enforced, that was a policy GLAAD encouraged the other platforms to adopt.
Between the lines: Ellis added that, when it comes to harassment and discrimination, what happens online isn't staying online.
- "There are real world consequences to what happens online," Ellis said. "There are direct lines you can draw between the over 100 anti-trans bills that are now circulating at the state (level) and what's being produced and pushed out within the social media world. "
- "I think that there are direct lines to, unfortunately, suicides of our community."
Yes, but: Ellis noted that the online world, including social media, can still be an important gathering place for LGBTQ people.
- "There are bright spots, there are absolutely bright spots," Ellis said. There are so many kids who share their transition stories or there are so many people who share their coming out stories. And I think that's really important, who inspire other kids or other people to be their true and authentic self. ... However, the challenge right now is that the negative is outweighing the positive."
What's next: GLAAD hopes to work with the sites over the next year and plans to issue grades for each next year.
"Our thought on this is that now that we've given you what's on our minds, what we think is a problematic for our community, we are going to hold you accountable, Ellis said. "And if you know anything about the LGBTQ community, we will hold you accountable and we will put our money where our mouth is."
The other side: Here's what each of the social media platforms had to say in response to the report.
- Facebook/Instagram: "We believe deeply in the representation of and visibility for the LGBTQ+ community that GLAAD champions," CMO Alex Schultz 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, non-profits and other stakeholders - like GLAAD - to try to get it right."
- YouTube: "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," the Google-owned video site said in a statement to Axios. "This work is ongoing and we appreciate the thoughtful feedback from GLAAD."
- Twitter: "We welcome GLAAD’s initiative and the opportunity to better understand the experiences and needs of the LGBTQ+ communities on our service," Twitter said in a statement to Axios. "We’ve engaged with GLAAD to better understand their requests and are committed to an open dialogue to better inform our work to support LGBTQ safety."
- TikTok: "TikTok is committed to supporting and uplifting LGBTQ+ voices on and off the platform and we care deeply about fostering a welcoming and supportive experience for everyone," TikTok said in a statement to Axios."We share GLAAD's dedication to the safety of the LGBTQ+ community and will continue working with GLAAD and other LGBTQ+ organizations to help inform and strengthen our work."
Go deeper: GLAAD's plan to rate social media on safety