IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Social media platforms aren't doing enough to keep LGBTQ people safe, group says

Advocacy group GLAAD gave Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube failing grades for keeping LGBTQ users safe amid an unprecedented wave of online hate.
The Twitter logo is seen at their headquarters, on April 26, 2022, in downtown San Francisco.
Twitter adopted a ban on misgendering and deadnaming in 2018. Amy Osborne / AFP via Getty Images file

For the second year in a row, the five largest social media platforms received failing grades on LGBTQ safety, according to a report from GLAAD, an LGBTQ media advocacy group.

GLAAD’s second annual Social Media Safety Index graded Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube on LGBTQ safety, privacy and expression using 12 LGBTQ-specific standards. GLAAD found that all five of the platforms scored below 50%.

“LGBTQ people are under attack right now,” Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, said in the report. She noted that over the last two years, there’s been a rise in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. Far-right pundits and even some Republican officials have also started referring to the push for LGBTQ-inclusive policies as “grooming,” and have called LGBTQ people and their supporters “pedophiles” — including publicly on social media.

As this rhetoric has taken hold online, state lawmakers have also introduced more than 340 anti-LGBTQ bills since January, according to the Human Rights Campaign, with the majority of them targeting transgender youth.

“Today’s political and cultural landscapes demonstrate the real-life harmful effects of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and misinformation online,” Ellis said in a statement. “The hate and harassment, as well as misinformation and flat-out lies about LGBTQ people, that go viral on social media are creating real-world dangers, from legislation that harms our community to the recent threats of violence at Pride gatherings.” 

Ellis said that social media platforms are “active participants in the rise of anti-LGBTQ cultural climate,” and that they need to create safer products and policies and then enforce those policies. That was one of the key takeaways of GLAAD’s report overall — that social media platforms need to monitor violations of their existing policies. 

“Currently, they are failing to meet this challenge,” the report said.

A slight uptick in harassment overall

GLAAD found that the rate of LGBTQ people who reported experiencing hate and harassment increased slightly to 66%, compared to 64% last year, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s 2022 Online Hate and Harassment Report

That rate, GLAAD noted, is disproportionately higher than any other identity group. In comparison, 38% of non-LGBTQ+ respondents reported experiencing hate and harassment. 

More than half, or 54%, of LGBTQ respondents also reported experiencing severe harassment — double the rate of non-LGBTQ respondents, at 26%, according to the ADL survey. Severe harassment included physical threats, sustained harassment, stalking, sexual harassment, doxing, which means revealing someone’s address or other personal information online, or swatting, which refers to falsely reporting an emergency to dispatch armed police officers to someone’s location.

The ADL report found that 68% of respondents said the harassment took  place on Facebook, 26% on Instagram, 23% on Twitter, 20% on YouTube, and 14% on TikTok.

In response to a request for comment, a TikTok spokesperson said, “TikTok is committed to supporting and uplifting LGBTQ+ voices, and we work hard to create an inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ people to thrive.” 

A spokesperson for Meta said that Facebook and Instagram “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.” 

Jack Malon, a spokesperson for YouTube said, "It’s against our policies to promote violence or hatred against members of the LGBTQ+ community, and over the last few years, we’ve made significant progress in our ability to quickly remove hateful and harassing content, and to prominently surface content in search results and recommendations from authoritative sources. This work is ongoing and we appreciate the thoughtful feedback from GLAAD."

A spokesperson for Twitter has not returned request for comment.

Not enough progress on social platforms

Of the five platforms, TikTok received the lowest grade, 43%, on GLAAD’s platform scorecard. Both Twitter and YouTube received 45%, while Facebook received 46% and Instagram received 48%. 

The platforms scored well in some areas. For example, all of them received a 100% for policies that commit to protecting LGBTQ users from hate, discrimination and harassment on the platform. 

But the scorecard also identified a few problems across some of the platforms. Facebook, Instagram and YouTube still do not prohibit misgendering and deadnaming, which refer to intentionally using the wrong pronouns and name for a transgender person. 

TikTok banned the practices in February, after working with GLAAD to develop the policy. Twitter adopted a ban on misgendering and deadnaming in 2018. 

Jenni Olsen, GLAAD’s senior director of social media safety, said the group’s recommendation that all platforms adopt a similar policy “remains an especially high priority in our current landscape where anti-trans rhetoric and attacks are so prevalent, vicious, and harmful.”  

GLAAD cited research by the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization, that found that transgender and nonbinary youth who reported having their pronouns respected by all the people they lived with attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected by anyone with whom they lived. 

GLAAD’s report also urged Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube to expressly prohibit content that promotes so-called “conversion therapy,” a discredited practice that seeks to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Though Meta’s Facebook and Instagram do have a policy against “Content explicitly providing or offering to provide products or services that aim to change people’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” the policy is listed separately as one that requires “additional information and/or context to enforce.”

YouTube mitigates conversion therapy content by showing an information pane from the Trevor Project with information about the practice, but it does not explicitly prohibit the content in its hate speech policy.

Malon, the spokesperson for the YouTube, said that it is against the site's hate speech policy to promote violence or hatred against protected individuals or groups, including the LGBTQ+ community. As a result, content promoting conversion therapy would violate that policy and would be removed.

GLAAD also called on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok to ban targeted advertising based on users’ sexual orientation or gender identity, and urged YouTube to make a stronger commitment to address the wrongful removal and demonetization of LGBTQ creators’ content, among other recommendations.

Though social media platforms have made some efforts to become safer for LGBTQ users, they aren’t doing enough, the report said. 

“At this point, after their years of empty apologies and hollow promises,” Ellis said in the report, “we must also confront the knowledge that social media platforms and companies are prioritizing profit over LGBTQ safety and lives.”

Follow NBC Out on TwitterFacebook & Instagram