by Henry Berg-Brousseau •
As Extremist Politicians Ramp Up Harmful Anti-LGBTQ+ Rhetoric Ahead of 2022 Elections, New Report from Human Rights Campaign and Center for Countering Digital Hate Warns of Growing Influence Extremists are Wielding Online — as Social Media Platforms Enable and Profit From Anti-LGBTQ+ ‘Grooming’ Content
WASHINGTON — In the wake of the passage of Florida’s discriminatory “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill, extremist politicians and their allies engineered an unprecedented and dangerous anti-LGBTQ+ misinformation campaign that saw discriminatory and inflamatory “grooming” content surge by over 400% across social media platforms, according to a new report released today by the Human Rights Campaign and the Center for Countering Digital Hate. The report — Digital Hate: Social Media’s Role in Amplifying Dangerous Lies About LGBTQ+ People — reveals that the average number of tweets per day using slurs such as “groomer” and “pedophile” in relation to LGBTQ+ people surged by 406% in the month after the Florida bill was passed, resulting in a sharp spike in online homophobia and transphobia that social media platforms not only failed to crack down on, but also profited from.
The report also reveals that the anti-LGBTQ+ content was largely driven by a small group of extremist politicians and their allies who together are driving a coordinated and concerted campaign to attack LGBTQ+ kids in an effort to rile up extreme members of their base ahead of the midterm elections. According to the report’s findings:
In a matter of mere days, just ten people drove 66% of impressions for the 500 most viewed hateful “grooming” tweets — including Gov. Ron DeSantis’s press secretary Christina Pushaw, extremist members of Congress like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, and pro-Trump activists like “Libs of TikTok” founder Chaya Raicheck.
Posts from these 10 people alone reached more than 48 million views, and the top 500 most influential “grooming” tweets all together were seen 72 million times.
The astonishing visibility these posts garnered is a direct result of Twitter’s failure to enforce its own policies banning anti-LGBTQ+ slurs. Twitter failed to act on 99% of the 100 hateful tweets reported to them anonymously by CCDH researchers, even after it had stated ‘grooming’ slurs were against its policies on hate speech.
On Facebook and Instagram, 59 paid ads promoted the same narrative. Despite similar policies prohibiting anti-LGBTQ+ hate content on both social media platforms, only one ad was removed.
“As social media platforms fail to enforce their own standards — enabling a wave of online anti-LGBTQ+ hate to grow without restraint — extremists are wielding dangerous influence, seeking to radicalize Americans, incite hate against LGBTQ+ people, and mobilize the extremists within their base ahead of the midterm elections,” said HRC Interim President Joni Madison. “But the rise of this online vitriol doesn’t just have political implications — there are deadly, real world consequences as violent rhetoric leads to stigma, radicalization, and ultimately violence. Nearly one-in-five of any type of hate crime is now motivated by anti-LGBTQ+ bias, and the last two years have been the deadliest for transgender people, particularly Black transgender women. HRC, along with our partners at the Center for Countering Digital Hate, urgently calls on social media companies to act swiftly and transparently to stop the spread of extremist and hateful misinformation, including the grooming narrative.”
“We’re in the middle of a growing wave of hate and demonization targeting LGBTQ+ people – often distributed digitally by opportunistic politicians and so-called ‘influencers’ for personal gain,” said Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate. “Online hate and lies reflect and reinforce offline violence and hate. The normalization of anti-LGBTQ+ narratives in digital spaces puts LGBTQ+ people in danger. Facebook and Twitter claim in their rules to prohibit this kind of targeted hate and harassment but they simply don’t enforce those rules on bad actors — rules which are designed to protect others’ rights. The clear message from social media giants is that they are willing to turn a blind eye. LGTBQ+ rights have been transformed after decades of hard-won progress, but progress is fragile unless you continue to defend it.”
Key Findings of the Report
➤ Anti-LGBTQ+ ‘grooming’ rhetoric on social media platforms drastically increased following the passage of Florida’s Don't Say Gay or Trans law.
Researchers used the social analytics tool BrandWatch to collect a sample of 989,547 tweets posted between January 1 and July 27 that mention the LGBTQ+ community alongside slurs such as “groomer”, “predator” and “pedophile”.
6,607 tweets a day overall on average, up from 1,307 the month before
1,385 tweets a day using the phrase “OK groomer” on average, up from 54
4,053 tweets a day referring to Disney alongside slurs on average, up from 37
In the week following Twitter’s statement that tweets calling transgender or nonbinary people “groomers” violate its policies on hate speech, there were 8,075 tweets per day on average mentioning the slurs alongside the LGBTQ+ community
➤ ‘Grooming’ rhetoric is being spread by a small group of radical extremists as part of a coordinated and concerted effort to attack LGBTQ+ kids to rile up extreme members of their base, the only voting bloc they are moving on these issues, ahead of the midterm elections.
Researchers used BrandWatch to identify the 500 most-viewed hateful 'grooming' tweets from our wider sample, which were viewed an estimated 72 million times in total and received 399,260 likes and retweets.
Marjorie Taylor Greene - Representative for Georgia’s 14th Congressional District
James Lindsay - “Anti-woke” activist and author
Lauren Boebert - Representative for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District
Christina Pushaw - Press secretary to Governor of Florida
Frank Drew Hernandez - Contributor to Turning Point USA
The top 500 ‘grooming’ tweets were viewed 72 million times
➤ Meta profits from ads promoting ‘grooming’ narrative on Facebook and Instagram.
Using Meta’s Ad Library, researchers identified 59 ads promoting the narrative that the LGBTQ+ community and its allies are ‘grooming’ children.
Meta accepted up to $24,987 for the ads, which have been served to users over 2.1 million times.
32 of the 59 ads, receiving 2 million impressions, focus ‘grooming’ accusations on Disney after the company came out in opposition of the ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ bill.
As of August 1, Meta continued to run ‘grooming’ ads despite stating on July 20 that baselessly calling LGBTQ people or the community “groomers” is covered by its hate speech policies.
➤ Hateful content has gone virtually unchecked, despite anti-discrimination polices at Facebook and Twitter.
An audit found that Twitter failed to act on 99% of the 100 hateful tweets reported to them anonymously by CCDH researchers after it had stated ‘grooming’ slurs were against its policies on hate speech.
Just one of the 59 ads promoting the ‘grooming narrative’ was removed by Meta, and the platform has continued to accept such ads after it had stated ‘grooming’ slurs were against its policies on hate speech.
➤ There are real life consequences to anti-LGBTQ+ hate being spread online.
Legislative — Legislators in state houses across the country introduced 344 anti-LGBTQ+ bills this session, and 25 of them passed. These bills and laws attack the LGBTQ+ community, particularly transgender and non-binary young people and their families, preventing them from accessing age-appropriate medical care, playing sports with their friends, or even talking about who they are in school.
Anti-LGBTQ+ Violence — Nearly 1 in 5 of any type of hate crime is now motivated by anti-LGBTQ+ bias; The last two years have been the deadliest for transgender people, especially Black transgender women, we have seen since we began tracking fatal violence against the community.
Reports of violence and intimidation against LGBTQ+ people have been making news across the country: White nationalists targeted a Pride event in Idaho; Proud Boys crashed Drag Queen story hour at a local library in CA to shout homophobic and transphobic slurs.
Mental Health Outcomes: More than 60 percent of LGBTQ+ youth said their mental health has deteriorated as a result of recent efforts to restrict access to things like gender-affirming care for transgender youth.
The full report and dataset can be found on HRC’s website here. To speak with a representative from HRC or CCDH, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ+ people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.
The Center for Countering Digital Hate is a US non-profit (501c3) that researches the architecture of online hate and misinformation. The Center has offices in Washington, D.C. and London, UK.
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