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Commentary: When social media is a tool for hate

Kiki Monifa, Progressive Media Project on

Published in Op Eds

It’s 2021, the pandemic is ongoing, although more and more people are now totally vaccinated. Many people are still flocking to the internet and social media in search of connection.

For some, it is an oasis. For others, a nightmare.

Woke folks are aware of #StopAsianHate, #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo. These are hashtags meant to draw attention to the oppression of people based on race and gender.

As a lesbian of African descent, I have felt the weight of hate. Despite the ray of hope created by the guilty verdicts against Derek Chauvin for killing George Floyd, I am forever reminded of how far we have yet to go.

Most of what I personally see on social media is not specifically directed at me but comes rather in the form of posts that deny the existence of homophobia in general, allow for misgendering or deadnaming, spread misinformation and misquote famous folks under the umbrella of “straight pride” and are tainted with fear and hatred.

Personally, I don’t want the triggers. I have never seen the entire video of Chauvin as he kills George Floyd; likewise, I do not dwell on online hate and harassment against anyone.

I am, however, grateful that others are examining online hate and harassment. For instance, the advocacy group GLAAD in May released its first “Social Media Safety Index.” (To read the report, search GLAAD and Social Media Safety Index.)

The report’s sad conclusion is that the big five players in social media — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and TikTok — are not safe for LGBTQ+ folks and are riddled with online hate and harassment.

GLAAD utilized surveys conducted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in its “Online Hate and Harassment Report: The American Experience 2021.”

The ADL surveyed 2,251 folks and found that 64% of LGBTQ+ folks experienced online hate and harassment. It was the highest percentage for any demographic category. The next highest were Muslims (46%), Jews (35%), Blacks (33%), Asian Americans and Latinx (both 31%).

 

Here are two examples of hate speech against LGBTQ+ folks:

“Homophobia does not exist. It is a made-up word designed to make heterosexuals feel guilty about being normal.” This post ran with a picture of a white family with two kids on the “Straight Pride World Wide” Facebook page.

A meme on Instagram: “Trans Women are Men; Trans Men are Women; Non-Binary is Fake Sh-t; Trans Rights are Not My F---ing Problem.” It went on to warn: “If you are a n---er, k-ke, LGBTHIV+ supporter, feminist, politically correct, globalist and communist ... this page is not for you.”

The GLAAD report called on social media platforms to “act immediately to improve social media safety for LGBTQ+ people and for other historically marginalized groups. The safety of LGBTQ+ people on social media platforms is an urgent public safety issue.”

There are individual recommendations for each platform regarding disinformation/misinformation. These include third-party fact-checking, improving the process of user reporting, bringing transparency to the system of enforcement, using qualified human moderators and diversifying the workplace, to name a few.

Of course, monetization is a key factor in whether and how the online media platforms address the issues of online hate and harassment.

“Tech companies show an incredible ability to adapt their algorithms to boost engagement and profits,” the report quotes Ina Fried of Axios as saying. “They need to devote similar energy to creating algorithms that minimize hate and harassment — for their sake and for society’s.”

Here’s to eliminating all hate speech and harassment, on and off line. We are not safe until all of us are safe.

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(Kiki Monifa of Oakland, California, is editor-in-chief of BlackHistoryEveryday.com. This column was produced for The Progressive magazine and distributed by Tribune News Service.) ©2021 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
 

 

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