How evangelical and right-wing media spread a false story about health care for trans youth

From Media Matters:

Right-wing and evangelical websites, as well as their social networks, amplify misinformation and build outrage against the LGBTQ community

by Kayla Gogarty & Brianna January

Major right-wing and anti-LGBTQ outlets, in particular Ben Shapiro’s The Daily Wire, posted content based on misconstrued data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to falsely suggest that drugs used to delay puberty are deadly for trans teens. The story — which began with debunked reporting from a U.K. tabloid — received high engagement on social media after right-wing and evangelical media apparatus boosted it.

The story was shared multiple times on Facebook by Daily Wire personalities like Shapiro, Michael Knowles, and Matt Walsh, as well as other popular conservative pages such as PragerU. The misinformation followed a familiar path of right-wing figures boosting lower-engagement content to higher-profile social media platforms so it reaches a larger audience.

Content pushing this anti-trans misinformation have accumulated at least 165,000 interactions in total, and anti-trans group The Kelsey Coalition is leveraging the same misconstrued data to fearmonger about gender-affirming medical care. In its September 27 report, NBC News noted that evangelical and right-wing outlets helped the story go viral, and the outlet debunked several of their claims.


Right-wing outlet Daily Mail published misleading information on puberty blockers that earned low Facebook engagement

On August 25, right-wing U.K. outlet the Daily Mail published an article that misleadingly claimed that England’s National Health Service (NHS) “is investigating issues around hormone-blocking drugs.” Also known as puberty blockers, hormone-blocking drugs “are medicines that prevent puberty from happening” to help transgender youths’ bodies “better reflect who [they] are.”

The article referenced comments Jackie Doyle-Price, parliamentary under-secretary for health and social care, made to the U.K. House of Commons on July 23, which did not specify that the NHS was investigating any drug or raise alarm about puberty blockers. In fact, she said that “the treatments available on the NHS, particularly for children, are appropriate.”

The Daily Mail specifically pointed to Doyle-Price’s comments that she is “working with NHS England to do a proper review of the research around this service and the ethics of it to establish a proper framework for consent” for young people seeking assistance from NHS’ Gender Identity Development Service. An NHS spokesperson told NBC News that “no special review is being launched” into puberty blockers and “noted that all transgender health care services are regularly reviewed.”

The Daily Mail article earned less than 500 interactions on Facebook, according to Crowdtangle’s Google Chrome extension.

Conservative outlet National Catholic Register picked up the story and earned over 8,400 Facebook interactions

On September 18, conservative outlet National Catholic Register published an article that linked to a reprint of the Daily Mail article and repeated its false claim about an NHS investigation into puberty blockers. It also misleadingly claimed that “thousands of deaths” and “more than 41,000 adverse events” were associated with the drugs based on a misrepresentation of data from the FDA.

NBC News debunked that claim, noting that the “‘thousands’ of people who die while taking these drugs are likely the terminally ill cancer patients who receive hormone blockers to fight hormone-sensitive cancers, like prostate cancer, according to experts.” Joshua Safer, executive director of the Mt. Sinai Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery, told NBC News that the conservative outlet was not relying on an individual study for its conclusions and was instead looking at “a big smorgasbord of reports and so the problem with that is you don’t even know that those deaths are connected to the agent they are reported to be connected to.” Safer noted that hormone-blocking drugs are also used to treat “infertility and certain types of cancer, particularly prostate cancer,” so any deaths connected to their use are “much more likely” to be associated with those conditions than the drugs themselves.

National Catholic Register also interviewed anti-trans endocrinologist Michael Laidlaw, who is a medical consultant for the Kelsey Coalition. The Kelsey Coalition is an anti-trans group for parents who advocate against accepting children’s gender identity. Laidlaw is one of the few public-facing members of the group and uses his position as a medical professional to give its arguments a veneer of credibility.

National Catholic Register’s article earned more interactions on Facebook than the Daily Mail’s, with around 8,400 interactions.

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