Case Before Oversight Board Reveals Serious Flaws in Meta's Moderation of Anti-LGBTQ SpeechJenni Olson, Leanna Garfield / Oct 3, 2023
Jenni Olson is the Senior Director and Leanna Garfield is the Manager of the Social Media Safety program at GLAAD.
Last month, the Oversight Board– the quasi-independent body funded by Meta to tackle thorny content moderation and policy questions– announced its consideration of what it dubbed the “Post in Polish Targeting Trans People” case. The Oversight Board summarizes the case as follows:
In April 2023, a Facebook user in Poland posted an image of a striped curtain in the blue, pink and white colors of the transgender flag. On the image, there is text overlay that says in Polish: ‘New technology. Curtains that hang themselves.’
The following is a summary of the official public comment issued this week to the Oversight Board by the Social Media Safety Program at GLAAD, the US-based LGBTQ media advocacy organization.
Meta’s Hate Speech policy prohibits content targeting people based on protected characteristics, such as gender identity. The post in question is clearly asserting the horrific, and violative, sentiment that transgender people should kill themselves. Meta’s content moderators should have accurately enforced its policies in the first place. It is a serious problem that the post was only removed after the Oversight Board alerted Meta.
This case powerfully illuminates highly consequential systemic failures with the company’s moderation practices that have broad implications for all anti-LGBTQ hate content, as well as for content that targets all historically marginalized groups. Such moderation may be more complex than recognizing basic slurs, but this is why the company must provide adequate training and guidance to its moderators on recognizing anti-trans hate. Meta is fully capable of implementing such training yet continues to fail to prioritize it, resulting in epidemic levels of anti-LGBTQ hate across its platforms.
The Current State of Anti-LGBTQ Online Hate and Connections to Offline Harm
GLAAD’s 2023 Social Media Safety Index (SMSI) shows that Meta, on a systemic level, continues to fail to protect LGBTQ users, notably transgender people, from online abuse. Largely ignoring expertise and guidance from civil society, the company is failing to remedy longstanding issues, contributing to real-world violence and other harms.
Online hate speech targeting LGBTQ, especially trans, people has risen significantly in recent years. Prominent right-wing media outlets, pundits with monetary and political motives, and opportunist political figures are using social media to incite and encourage fear, hate, and violence against LGBTQ people.
Hate content, seeded over time to foster dehumanizing narratives in politics and society, often violates Meta’s Community Guidelines but uses disingenuous rhetoric (including satire and humor) to circumvent safeguards. Meta is failing to adequately confront the issues of “malign creativity” that allows for unmitigated hate speech as bad actors adapt to moderation policies in a dynamic process. Even worse, Meta has failed to consistently apply its policies during heightened periods of violence toward minority communities, who pay the price.
LGBTQ people globally are facing an alarming rise in targeted violence. In the US, armed Proud Boys and neo-Nazis with swastika flags outside pride events have become a regular occurrence. Demonstrations have included violent chants such as “pedophiles get the rope” and references to “groomers,” a derogatory term that falsely characterizes LGBTQ people as pedophiles and threats to children.
The online popularity of the “groomer” trope in particular has contributed to real-world violence. From June 2022-May 2023, GLAAD and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) documented at least 356 anti-LGBTQ incidents in the US, “with at least 191 anti-LGBTQ+ incidents of harassment, vandalism and assault making explicit references to ‘grooming’ or ‘pedophilia.’” A follow-up report found an additional 145 incidents during June 2023 alone. These attacks are following the horrifying trajectory of illiberal states such as Poland, Hungary, and Russia that are cracking down on LGBTQ rights.
As highlighted in GLAAD’s SMSI, Meta’s Facebook and Instagram are largely failing to mitigate anti-LGBTQ hate and disinformation, despite such content violating its own policies. The SMSI also recommends that Meta and others better train moderators on the safety needs of LGBTQ users, and enforce policies around anti-LGBTQ content across all languages, cultural contexts, and regions. A 2021 Council of Europe report shows “increasing discrimination and attacks on LGBTI people in Poland and Europe as a whole,” illuminating the role of social media platforms in facilitating offline harm.
GLAAD’s full public comment submission to the Oversight Board also includes sections on: Meta’s Failure to Confront “Malign Creativity” and Adversarial Adaptation to Moderation; Statements that Encourage or Applaud Death by Suicide as a Form of Hate Speech; and Meta’s Practices for Reviewing Multiple Reports and Repeat Offenders. You can read the comment here.