All Social Media Platforms Should Have Policy Prohibitions Against Harmful So-Called “Conversion Therapy” ContentLeanna Garfield, Jenni Olson / Jan 17, 2024
The widely debunked and harmful practice of so-called “conversion therapy” falsely claims to change an LGBTQ person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, and has been condemned by all major medical, psychiatric, and psychological organizations including the American Medical Association and American Psychological Association. Globally, there has been a growing movement to ban “conversion therapy” at the national level. As of January 2024, 14 countries have such bans, including Canada, France, Germany, Malta, Ecuador, Brazil, Taiwan, and New Zealand. In the United States, 22 states and the District of Columbia have restrictions in place.
There is broad consensus and building momentum toward protecting LGBTQ people, and especially LGBTQ youth, from this dangerous practice. However, “conversion therapy” disinformation, extremist scare-tactic narratives, and the profit-driven promotion of such services continues to be widespread on social media platforms, via both organic content and advertising. And, as a December 2023 Trevor Project report reveals, “conversion therapy” continues to happen in nearly every US state.
Thankfully, more tech companies and social media platforms are taking leadership to address the spread of content that promotes and advertises “conversion therapy.” In December 2023, the social platform Post added an express prohibition of such content to their policies, and last week the startup Spoutible did the same.
GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis acknowledged this recent progress, saying to The Advocate this week: “The leadership of both Post and Spoutible in adopting new policies prohibiting so-called ‘conversion therapy’ content puts these companies ahead of so many others. GLAAD urges all social media platforms to adopt, and enforce, this policy and protect their LGBTQ users.”
In February 2022, GLAAD worked with TikTok to have the platform add an explicit prohibition of content promoting so-called “conversion therapy.”. TikTok updated its community guidelines to include the following: “Adding clarity on the types of hateful ideologies prohibited on our platform. This includes … content that supports or promotes conversion therapy programs. Though these ideologies have long been prohibited on TikTok, we've heard from creators and civil society organizations that it's important to be explicit in our Community Guidelines.”
In 2022, GLAAD also urged both YouTube and Twitter (now X) to add an express prohibition of “conversion therapy” into their content and ad guidelines. While X does not currently have such a policy, YouTube, with the assistance of its AI systems, does mitigate “conversion therapy” content by showing an information panel from the Trevor Project that reads: “Conversion therapy, sometimes referred to as ‘reparative therapy,’ is any of several dangerous and discredited practices aimed at changing an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.” However, unlike TikTok and Meta, YouTube does not include an explicit prohibition of such content in its Hate Speech Policy.
Meta’s Facebook and Instagram (and by extension Threads, which is guided by Instagram’s policies) currently do have such a prohibition. However it is listed separately from the company’s standard three tiers of content moderation consideration as requiring, “additional information and/or context to enforce.” GLAAD has recommended that it be elevated to a higher priority tier.
Of the smaller social media platforms, it is notable that the community guidelines of both Pinterest and NextDoor include a prohibition against content promoting or supporting “conversion therapy and related programs.” As mentioned above, both Post and Spoutible also have added such policies, with Spoutible’s new guidelines being the most extensive:
Prohibited Content: Any content that promotes, endorses, or provides resources for ‘conversion therapy.’ Content that claims sexual orientation or gender identity can be changed or ‘cured.’ Advertising or soliciting services for ‘conversion therapy.’ Testimonials supporting or promoting the effectiveness of ‘conversion therapy.’
Spoutible's policy also thoughtfully outlines these exceptions:
Content that discusses ‘conversion therapy’ in a historical or educational context may be allowed, provided it does not advocate for or glorify the practice. Personal stories shared by survivors of ‘conversion therapy,’ which do not promote the practice, may be permissible.
In addition to GLAAD’s advocacy efforts advising platforms to add prohibitions against content promoting “conversion therapy” to their community guidelines, we also urge these companies to effectively enforce these policies.
To clarify even further, all platforms should add express public-facing language prohibiting the promotion of so-called “conversion therapy” to both their community guidelines and advertising services policies. While some platforms have described off-the-record that “conversion therapy” material is prohibited under the umbrella of other policies — policies prohibiting hateful ideologies, for instance — the prohibition of “conversion therapy” promotion should be explicitly stated publicly in their community guidelines and other policies.
When such content is reported, it’s also important for moderators to make judgments about the content in context, and distinguish between harmful content promoting “conversion therapy” versus content that mentions or discusses “conversion therapy” (i.e. counter-speech). As a 2020 Reuters story details, social media platforms can provide a space for “conversion therapy” survivors to share their experiences and find community.
GLAAD also urges all platforms to review and follow the below recommendations from the Global Project on Hate & Extremism (GPAHE):
To protect their users, tech companies must:
- Deplatform [“conversion therapy”] providers and other anti-LGBTQ+ material in accordance with community standards and hate speech policies.
- Surface more authoritative material generally on searches related to conversion therapy in all languages and countries, and de-rank disinformation.
- Incorporate the terms “same-sex attraction” and “reintegrative therapy” into the algorithms to increase authoritative results.
- Partner with experts so that the algorithms are always incorporating current terminology.
- Improve content moderation in non-English languages and devote more resources to language and cultural competencies worldwide.
- Retool the recommended content algorithms to recommend reliable information.
- Ensure that no conversion therapy content is monetized with ads.
Source: New GPAHE Reports Reveal Harmful Conversion Therapy Disinformation Thriving Online (Global Project Against Hate & Extremism, Jan 2022)
This overview was adapted from the 2023 GLAAD Social Media Safety Index report. The next report is forthcoming in the summer of 2024.