Social media platforms have policies against discriminatory and hateful content – but LGBTQ+ rights activists say they’re not working.
15 November 2018
Trans people in the UK have faced a “deluge of hatred” and an increasingly “hostile environment” online, say LGBTQ+ rights activists. Social media platforms including Twitter and YouTube have policies intended to prevent discriminatory and hateful content, but activists say they’re not working.
“If I said I was transgender or supportive of transgender people on Twitter, I would just be pounced on”, said Claire Birkenshaw, a university lecturer and LGBTQ+ rights activist in Leeds, describing this “hostile environment”.
Adrian Harrop, an NHS doctor and LGBTQ+ activist, said that frequent, sweeping claims that present trans people as “sexual deviants and predatory criminals” appear to be “radicalising” others against trans rights online.
“I didn’t know where the next punch was going to come from and in the end I had a nervous breakdown”, said Sarah Brown, a former Cambridge city councillor, describing “psychologically exhausting and intimidating” abuse.
Brown said there’s been a “deluge of hatred against trans women” in the UK over the last year amid potential reforms to the Gender Recognition Act, which would make it easier for trans people to change their legal gender.
“The change in public acceptability of transphobia has moved radically within the last six months”, added Ms X, a feminist who requested anonymity amid fears of such abuse and to protect the identity of her trans child.
Chiara Capraro, women’s human rights programme manager at the NGO Amnesty International UK, said rising transphobia has been fuelled by “misinformation and false statements spreading”.
Common forms of transphobic abuse include intentionally misgendering trans people or “deadnaming” them, said Capraro, while false statements include those that present trans women as abusive men.
Social media platforms have policies against ‘hateful content’ that targets people based on characteristics including gender identity. But they’re not working, said Brown. “It’s almost like they think the only thing that is transphobic is standing in the street shooting trans people”.
“You get a bunch of people abusing a trans woman, saying she’s a pervy man – pretty much the textbook definition of transphobia”, she said, “and the reports come back saying it doesn’t violate policies”.
Twitter lends itself very readily to people being bullied off”, said Harrop. He described one tactic called ‘dog-piling’, in which “networks of people… will go onto a post to hurl abuse and try to silence” someone.
It’s not unusual for harassers to protect their own identities with anonymised accounts, Harrop said, nor is it uncommon for them to “come back in another incarnation” if they’re ever suspended for their comments.
Brown meanwhile described a “proliferation of fake accounts” over the last year, apparently set up specifically to target trans people, echoing “the American far-right and the tactics in the Trump election”.