Jun 15, 2023 - Technology

GLAAD: Social media companies are enabling real world violence

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GLAAD Social Media Safety Index of select social media companies
Data: GLAAD; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

By continuing to allow harassment and hate on their platforms, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and Twitter are fostering an environment that has led to a wave of threats and violence against the LGBTQ community, according to a new report from GLAAD.

  • The social media companies "are directly responsible for the uptick in hate and violence on the LGBTQ community," GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis told Axios, pointing to more than 160 documented acts or threats of violence at LGBTQ events so far in 2023.

Ellis said that rather than fostering a healthy dialogue, social media companies are profiting off of "enragement — that equals engagement and profits."

  • "I just want to shake these media companies and wake them up," Ellis said. "They’ve chosen to turn their backs on the LGBTQ community. This is a choice they make on a daily basis."

Driving the news: GLAAD's annual Social Media Safety Index gave failing grades to all the major social media companies for the second year in a row, in part for failing to enforce their own policies against anti-LGBTQ harassment.

  • All the major companies, with the exception of Twitter, saw their scores rise modestly from last year.
  • The report noted that, at least anecdotally, TikTok often appears to have less tolerance for overt anti-LGBTQ hate, and as a result, some far-right figures post less extreme content there than on other platforms.

Yes, but: Twitter's scores plummeted under new owner Elon Musk, who personally posts anti-transgender memes and often engages with far-right accounts, including LibsofTikTok.

  • "When the head of the company is one of the biggest creators of this toxic environment, these companies who are advertising on it really need to take a look at why [they are advertising] and who they are appealing to," Ellis said.
  • As we've reported, a number of tech companies continue to be large advertisers on Twitter, including Apple and Amazon.

Between the lines: In crafting their policies, social media platforms have to balance preventing hate and harassment while allowing a variety of viewpoints.

  • However, in many cases, GLAAD says, the largest companies are allowing content to remain even when it violates those policies.
  • Ellis said GLAAD and other groups have expended a huge amount of energy to achieve only small gains. "Even when we partner with them, they are not moving fast enough or doing enough," she said.
  • As for the argument that the platforms are simply allowing free speech, Ellis said the companies are failing to act against a significant amount of content that crosses the line into harassment or hate speech. "If you took this offline, you would call the police on these people," she said.

The big picture: Content moderation has become a lower priority for many tech platforms during the current financial downturn, and many have reduced the size of their teams that work to enforce content rules.

What they're saying:

  • YouTube: "Our policies prohibit content that promotes violence or hatred against members of the LGBTQ+ community," spokesman Jack Malon said in a statement to Axios. "Over the last few years, we've made significant progress in our ability to quickly remove this content from our platform ... We remain committed to this important work."
  • Meta: "We want our products and platforms to be safe for everyone," the company said in a statement. "We engage with civil society organizations around the world in our work to design policies and create tools that foster a safe online environment. This approach is always evolving, and input from LGBTQ+ safety and advocacy organizations is critical to informing and continually improving Meta's technologies and programs."
  • TikTok: "At TikTok, we're focused on building a safe and supportive platform where the LGBTQ+ community can keep inspiring and thriving," a spokesperson said in a statement to Axios. "We're proud to have strong policies aimed at protecting LGBTQ+ individuals from harassment and hate speech, including misgendering and deadnaming."
  • A Twitter spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
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