With new policies, TikTok aims to protect LGBTQ users

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LGBTQ people are almost four times more likely to be victims of violence, according to the UCLA Law School Williams Institute. And even on social networks, where many find communities that assert themselves, they are still exposed to abuse. Around 64% of community members have reportedly experienced online harassment in the past year, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

But on February 8, a major platform – TikTok – attempted to make the space a bit safer for LGBTQ users. It updated its community guidelines to explicitly prohibit dead names, gender errors, misogyny, and the promotion of so-called conversion therapy on its platform.

“While these ideologies have long been banned on TikTok, we’ve heard from creators and civil society organizations that it’s important to be explicit in our community guidelines,” said Cormac Keenan, Head of Trust and the security of TikTok, in a Press release.

Misgender is referring to a transgender person using the wrong sex, and deadnaming refers to or reveals a transgender person’s former name without their consent. Conversion therapy is a scientifically discredited and harmful practice trying to “convert” LGBTQ people to be heterosexual or cisgender.

While LGBTQ users and advocacy groups have applauded the updated community guidelines, it’s unclear how they will be enforced or how much safer they will make LGBTQ users on TikTok. The updated guidelines are also just one of many changes that LGBTQ advocates would like to see social media companies put in place.

Prevent real-world damage

According to Jenni Olson, director of the social media safety program at GLAAD, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, gender errors and malicious dead names can cause real-world harm. For example, transgender and non-binary youth who reported living with people who did not respect their pronouns attempted suicide at nearly double the rate of those who reported living with all people who respected their pronouns, according to a study. survey carried out in 2021 by the Project Trevor.

Promoting so-called conversion therapy can be just as dangerous. LGBTQ youth who were subjected to such practices were more than twice as likely to attempt suicide as those who were not, also according to the Project Trevor.

Homophobia and transphobia, like other forms of bigotry, run rampant on social media in part because of the way the platforms are designed, says Jeffrey Maraisa trans, non-binary author and TikTok creator with over 500,000 followers.

“Hate is addictive,” says Marsh. If a platform cares most about engagement, they add, “hate is a very engaging activity.”

[Related: Tips for dealing with trolls on social media]

Marsh has seen many of his videos go viral on the “wrong side of TikTok”, as their video appears more on homophobic and transphobic user feeds as they engage in them fervently and viciously. Marsh has even received death threats, but they believe sharing even the most despicable comments is an opportunity to educate others.

“It’s part of my mission to help others understand LGBTQ people even if they’re a hateful bigot,” Marsh says. “But if I was someone with a different mental health profile, that could be a very dangerous position.”

LGBTQ users and advocates applaud the changes

The updated community guidelines came after GLAAD and more than 75 other groups signed a open letter in November, instructing TikTok and other social media platforms to better protect users against homophobia, transphobia, misogyny and racism.

In May, GLAAD released its first Social Media Safety Index, which rates platforms based on how they protect or fail to protect LGBTQ users. It also makes recommendations on how they can improve. Olson says GLAAD meets regularly with all platforms to offer advice. Explicitly banning dead names, gender errors, and promoting conversion therapy was one of the Index’s recommendations, but GLAAD points out that in 2018 Twitter explicitly prohibits gender errors and dead names, and pinterest explicitly prohibited the promotion of conversion therapy and “the denial of an individual’s gender identity or sexual orientation”.

[Related: How to use science to talk to kids about gender]

“It’s really powerful for a company to make a statement to say, ‘These are the expectations we have for the people who use our products,'” Olson says.

Seeing the platform they love explicitly ban these behaviors could be very encouraging for young LGBTQ people, Marsh says, given the popularity of TikTok. Marsh has been creating content for years on social media platforms, including Vine, one of TikTok’s predecessors, and believes TikTok is the first platform to truly center marginalized voices.

“It’s great that they’ve seen the point of calling that specific kind of hate. For me, it’s a form of respect,” Marsh says. “At the same time, I’m not sure life daily lives of LGBTQ creators will change just as much.”

Application is random

While TikTok declared While it uses a “combination of technology and people to identify and remove violations of our Community Guidelines,” the company didn’t provide many details about how it will enforce the specific updated guidelines. Olson and Marsh both doubt how, or if, the platform will hold users accountable.

“There’s politics and then there’s enforcement,” Olson says. “And the enforcement of all those things is very uneven, to say the least.”

According to ICT Tac, its algorithms review videos before they go live and flag or remove videos that appear to violate community guidelines. This primarily applies to categories where the technology can be most accurate, such as safety of minors, adult nudity and sexual activity, and violent and graphic content.

For more nuanced categories, such as hateful behavior, harassment and bullying, TikTok relies more on human moderators, Eric Han, TikTok’s head of US security said in July. Press release.

Marsh believes TikTok will rely primarily on user reports to enforce updated community guidelines.

Jamie Favazza, director of policy and safety communications at TikTok, said via email, “We strive to proactively enforce our policies by leveraging both technology and people, and we appreciate and We are also reviewing the reports we receive from our community.”

Transparency lacking precision and accountability

TikTok publishes quarterly Community Rules Enforcement Reports which lists the number of videos they have taken down, organized by general guidelines. From July to September 2021, TikTok deleted more than 91 million videos, or around 1% of all videos uploaded to the platform, of which just over a third were automatically deleted. Of all the videos removed, around 1.5% were removed for “hate behavior” and around 5% were removed for “harassment and bullying”.

[Related: The early internet was a haven for trans youth]

But Olson points out that those numbers aren’t identified by specific forms of bullying, like homophobia and transphobia.

“They say how much they took,” Olson says. “We have no idea how much they missed.”

While Olson applauds TikTok’s community guidelines updates and wants other social media platforms to follow suit, she would like to see more regulatory oversight of platforms to ensure they follow their policies and ensure user safety.

“Every other industry in America is regulated so that there are consequences for the impact of their products on public health and safety,” Olson says. “We shouldn’t have to absorb the impact on public health and safety when there are things that can be done to mitigate that harm.”

It specifically refers to the Social Media NUDGE Act, a bipartisan bill introduced in Congress earlier this month that aims to investigate and reduce harmful content on social media platforms. He plans to do this in adding levels of “friction”, like Twitter’s policy of asking users if they’ve read an article before posting it. Olson also says that GLAAD is currently working on the 2022 Social Media Safety Index which will include dashboards for social media platforms.

Meanwhile, Marsh acknowledges that it’s difficult for social media companies to completely eradicate homophobia and transphobia from their platforms because they mirror homophobia and transphobia in society.

“LGBTQ hate was not invented by TikTok. It was not invented by TikTok users. This is a global systemic issue,” says Marsh. easiest in the world to rid your platform of LGBTQ hate, because as a society it’s still very addictive hate.”

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