Will Social Media Companies Ever Stop Platforming Extreme Anti-Trans Hate and Lies?

Alejandra Caraballo / Jun 27, 2024

Amidst escalating online scapegoating, offline attacks are rising, writes Alejandra Caraballo.

A year ago today, 250+ LGBTQ celebrities and allies sent an open letter to Meta, YouTube, TikTok, and X pleading with their CEOs to address the epidemic of harmful hate and dangerous disinformation that continues to target transgender people and escalate on their platforms. We asked that these companies develop and publicly share plans or information about how they are dealing with this material in the context of their existing hate and harassment policies. But by this anniversary, no such plans have been put forth despite our ongoing requests over the past year.

Signatories of the letter included a broad range of public figures across media: ALOK, Angelica Ross, Brandi Carlile, Dan Levy, Dylan Mulvaney, Elliot Page, Indya Moore, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janelle Monáe, Laverne Cox, Lena Waithe, Matt Bernstein, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, Niecy Nash-Betts, Raquel Willis, Tracee Ellis Ross, Wilson Cruz, and hundreds of others requested that platforms create and share specific plans for addressing:

  1. Content that spreads malicious lies and disinformation about medically necessary healthcare for transgender youth.
  2. Accounts and postings that perpetuate anti-LGBTQ extremist hate and disinformation, in violation of platform policies.
  3. Dehumanizing, hateful attacks on prominent transgender public figures and influencers.
  4. Anti-transgender hate speech, including targeted misgendering, deadnaming, and other hate-driven tropes.

Rising Online Hate, Rising Offline Violence

The persistent fear-mongering, hate, and scapegoating of LGBTQ people and the LGBTQ community is harmful and dangerous, and is inciting violence against the community. Just in the last few weeks, several prominent anti-LGBTQ social media accounts have praised and glorified burning and destroying Pride flags, which is inciting a nationwide escalation of vandalism and violence against Pride imagery in public. Last year, a shop owner who attempted to stop a Pride flag on her storefront from being defaced was murdered. The perpetrator was found to have an X (formerly Twitter) account that featured a pinned post of a burning Pride flag. What happens online does not stay there.

The coordinated campaigns of these grifting bigots and extremists utilize networked incitement and stochastic terror, a form of incitement to violence that harnesses incendiary rhetoric on social media against a particular group while refraining from explicit calls for violence, with the implicit understanding that violence is more likely to occur. Such efforts have been utilized with great effect to incite bomb threats, death threats, armed protests, arson, and vandalism against the LGBTQ community, its institutions, and allies. Social media companies have consistently failed to develop (or to enforce) adequate policies to combat this issue, allowing known bad actors to use their platforms to incite such actions even when clear links have been demonstrated, such as bomb threats being made against schools after Chaya Raichik, known as Libs of TikTok, posts about them supporting LGBTQ students.

These increasing expressions of hate and violence against the LGBTQ community are not occuring in a vacuum. A powerful new report by Over Zero on Decoding LGBTQ Scapegoating notes that the “rhetorical, political, and physical attacks targeting the LGBTQ community are, in addition to a critical rights issue, a central component of the authoritarian playbook, cloaking themselves as culture war politics as usual. LGBTQ scapegoating is not random.” The report concludes that these attacks are rooted in a deeper effort to “erode democracy” itself. As we see bedrock institutions such as schools and children’s hospitals being inundated with threats and violence, this tears at the very fabric of society.

Social media platforms have a responsibility to all of their users — and to society as a whole — to maintain the safety of their products. Time after time, social media companies are being shown to be complicit in the incitement of pogroms and sectarian violence across the world, as disinformation and unchecked hate have incited violence against minority communities — whether it’s the Rohingya in Myanmar, Muslims in Northern India, or insurrectionists storming the US Capitol on January 6th, 2021. These companies are failing miserably to meet the moment because increasing their shareholder value takes precedence over the health and safety of society.

As expressed in the open letter: “We speak together with one voice to demand that your companies create and enforce stronger content and ad policies to directly confront the content that is causing online and offline harm to transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people." It’s time for social media companies to step up and meet their social and moral responsibility, it’s time for them to enforce their policies, and to take immediate meaningful action to prevent further harm.


Alejandra Caraballo
Alejandra Caraballo is a Clinical Instructor at Harvard Law School's Cyberlaw Clinic where her work focuses on the intersection of gender and technology particularly with telemedicine access to abortion and networked harassment. Prior to joining the clinic, Alejandra was a staff attorney at the Tran...