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Study: Are social media giants protecting LGBTQ communities enough?

Study: Are social media giants protecting LGBTQ communities enough?

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Social media players can do a lot more to make their platforms safer for the LGBTQ community, said a recent report by GLAAD. GLAAD’s annual Social Media Safety Index analyses LGBTQ users’ safety on social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube.

The report found that all the platforms scored under 50 out of a potential 100 with TikTok having the lowest score. The platform scorecard was developed with Ranking Digital Rights, a US based company with expertise in ranking tech firms on human rights issues, and independent public opinion research firms Goodwin Simon Strategic Research.

While all the social media platforms had policies in place protecting LGBTQ users from hate speech and harassment, policing and implementing these guidelines fell short.

social media score

Instagram – 48/100

In the 2022 SMSI Platform Scorecard, Instagram received a score of 48. In its community guidelines, Instagram has a comprehensive protected group policy that protects users from threats, violence, hate speech, and harassment based on protected characteristics such as sexual orientation and gender identity.  

However, Instagram has no policy protecting users from targeted deadnaming and misgendering. While the company has a feature allowing users to add pronouns to their user profiles, the option is currently not available to all users.

In its targeted advertising policies, Meta said that it prohibits targeted advertising based on sensitive topics, including topics related to sexual orientation.

However, no similar disclosure was found that indicates the company does not permit detailed targeting based on users’ gender identity.

Recommendation:

  • Make a policy commitment to protecting transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming users from targeted deadnaming and misgendering: The company should adopt a policy that protects users from targeted deadnaming and misgendering.
  • Provide all users with tools to express their gender identity: The company should make its feature allowing users to add their gender pronouns to their user profiles available to all users and provide more options for users to customise who can see their gender pronouns.
  • Do not allow third party advertisers to target users based on their gender identity: The company should make a commitment to not allowing third party advertisers to target users based on their gender identity.


Facebook – 46/100

In the 2022 SMSI Platform Scorecard, Facebook received a score of 46. In its community guidelines, Facebook has a comprehensive policy that protects users from threats, violence, hate speech, and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Meta was one of only two companies to disclose information on its trainings for content moderators. The company’s policies also contain a clear prohibition of advertising content that could be harmful and/or discriminatory to LGBTQ individuals.

However, similar to Instagram, Facebook currently has no policy protecting users from targeted deadnaming and misgendering. While Facebook has a feature to add gender pronouns to user profiles, it is only available for users who select a custom gender and select one or more genders.

In its targeted advertising policies, Meta says that it prohibits targeted advertising based on sensitive topics, including topics related to sexual orientation.

However, no similar disclosure was found that indicates the company does not permit detailed targeting based on users’ gender identity.

Recommendation:

  • Make a policy commitment to protect transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming users from targeted deadnaming and misgendering: The company should adopt a policy that protects users from targeted deadnaming and misgendering.
  • Do not target users with advertising based on their gender identity: The company should disclose that it does not allow third party advertisers to target users based on their gender identity.
  • Publish comprehensive data on how policies protecting LGBTQ users are enforced: The company should regularly publish data about the actions it has taken to enforce policies protecting LGBTQ users.

Twitter – 45/100

In the 2022 SMSI Platform Scorecard, Twitter earned a score of 45, nonetheless Twitter was one of only two companies evaluated with an existing policy against targeted deadnaming and misgendering.  Like the other companies evaluated in this year’s index, Twitter also has a policy protecting LGBTQ users from attacks or threats based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The company also discloses that it prohibits targeted advertising based on sensitive categories, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

Twitter also prohibits advertising content that could be harmful and/or discriminatory to LGBTQ individuals including content that promotes claims or services attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

The company also makes a public commitment to diversifying its workforce, and publishes data on its LGBTQ workforce that is based on voluntarily self-disclosed data.

However, the company falls short in giving users the option to add their gender pronouns to their profiles. The company also does not disclose options for users to control the company’s collection of information related to their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The company also does not disclose any information on whether it requires content moderators to participate in trainings that educate them on the needs of LGBTQ people and other vulnerable users.

While the company discloses that it engages with organisations and groups that advocate on behalf of the LGBTQ community, it does not disclose if it has an LGBTQ policy lead or if it has formal trainings in place to educate employees on the needs of LGBTQ users.

Recommendation:

  • Provide additional tools for user expression: The company should disclose a voluntary dedicated feature that allows users to add their preferred gender pronouns to their user profiles. In order to ensure user privacy, Twitter should also disclose an option for users to customise who can see their gender pronouns.
  • Give users more control over their own data: Twitter should give users greater control over their own data, including options to control the company’s collection and inference of information related to users’ sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Implement commitment to LGBTQ expression and privacy across the company: In order to ensure that the needs of LGBTQ users are implemented across the company’s products and services, Twitter should have an LGBTQ policy lead and provide evidence of formal trainings that educate all employees to understand the needs of LGBTQ users.

YouTube – 45/100

In the 2022 SMSI Platform Scorecard, YouTube earned a score of 45. YouTube has a policy that protects users from hate speech, harassment, and cyber-bullying based on protected attributes, including sexual orientation and gender identity. However, like the other platforms, independent researchers say enforcement of these policies is often lacking.

Alphabet also discloses some information on how users can control the recommended content they see on YouTube. The company also discloses that it prohibits targeted advertising based on sensitive categories, including sexual orientation and gender identity. It also prohibits advertising content that could be harmful and/or discriminatory to LGBTQ individuals.

However, the company falls short of providing adequate transparency in several key areas. For example, it provides only limited information on user control over the company’s collection and inference of user information related to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Despite advocates and LGBTQ creators raising concern over the removal and demonetisation of LGBTQ-related content from ad services on YouTube, Alphabet only provides limited transparency on the state of demonetisation and removal of LGBTQ creators and their content. The company does not disclose a comprehensive plan outlining concrete steps to address demonetisation, filtering, and removal of LGBTQ creators.

The company’s transparency reports provide no data giving insights into removal and demonetisation of LGBTQ creators from ad services. It does not disclose whether it has an LGBTQ policy lead or internal trainings in place that educate its employees to understand the needs of LGBTQ users.

Recommendations:

  • Make a policy commitment to protect transgender, non-binary, and non-conforming users from targeted deadnaming and misgendering: The company should adopt a policy that protects users from targeted deadnaming and misgendering and removes such dehumanising anti-trans content.
  • Show greater commitment to addressing demonetisation and wrongful removal of LGBTQ creators and their content: The company should disclose comprehensive information on the concrete steps it takes to minimise wrongful demonetisation and removal of legitimate content related to LGBTQ issues from ad services. The company should also disclose comprehensive data on the wrongful removal of LGBTQ creators and their content and accounts.
  • Implement commitment to LGBTQ expression and privacy across the company: In order to ensure that the needs of LGBTQ users are attended to across the company’s products and services, Alphabet should have an LGBTQ policy lead who advises policy and product teams on the needs of LGBTQ and other vulnerable users.

Tiktok- 43/100

In the 2022 SMSI Platform Scorecard, TikTok earned a score of 43. TikTok was one of only two companies evaluated with an existing policy against targeted deadnaming and misgendering, and the only company to provide comprehensive information on how it detects violations to this policy. The company also discloses a comprehensive policy protecting LGBTQ users from other attacks, threats, and violence on the platform.

It allows users to add their gender pronouns to their profiles. TikTok was one of only two companies disclosing any information on trainings that educate content moderators on the needs of vulnerable users.

However, the company currently does not disclose options for users to control the company’s collection of information related to their sexual orientation and gender identity. The company also provides only limited options for users to control the recommend content they see based on their disclosed or inferred sexual orientation or gender identity.

Rather than an outright ban of targeted advertising based on user’s sexual orientation and gender identity, limitations on ad targeting based on users’ sexual orientation depend on local laws.

While the company discloses that it engages with organisations and groups that advocate on behalf of the LGBTQ community, it does not disclose that it has an LGBTQ policy lead or that it has a formal training in place that educates all employees to understand the needs of LGBTQ users.

Notably, TikTok was the only company that did not disclose any information on steps it takes to diversify its workforce.

Recommendation

  • Give users control over their own data: TikTok should give users control over their own data, including options to control the company’s collection and inference of information related to users’ sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Ban targeted advertising based on sexual orientation and gender identity: The company should ban third party advertising based on users’ sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Make a commitment to diversify TikTok’s workforce: The company should disclose a public commitment to taking proactive steps to diversify its workforce, and publish data that shows it follows up on this commitment.

 

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