TikTok censors America’s largest LGBTQ2S+ human rights organization

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America’s largest LGBTQ2S+ rights organization has been suspended from TikTok for two days after simply commenting “GAY!” on another user’s account.

On March 30, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) commented on a video showing a young man shouting “Gay! as they crossed the state line in Florida. The footage was filmed in response to the state’s recently signed “Don’t Say Gay” law, which limits discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity in Florida schools. HRC responded to the video by replying “GAY!” with a series of blue and yellow heart emoji.

Before it was flagged and taken down, the HRC comment received over 2,000 likes.

But shortly after posting the response, the national nonprofit’s social media managers discovered that their account had been suspended for allegedly breaking ‘community rules’. After appealing, the comment was restored, but the account’s posting capabilities remained limited.

While the initial suspension, which began April 3, was originally scheduled to last until April 10, display capabilities were restored after the organization appealed the ban multiple times.

After asking why their account had been suspended, HRC employees discovered that it had also been reported on other occasions. But as the representatives of the organization say ExtraTikTok did not specify which HRC Community Guidelines may have violated or why the group has been reported in the past.

Despite contacting TikTok for clarification on several occasions, HRC employees have not received any clarification as to why the account was suspended, except for alleged “human error”.

HRC representatives say TikTok’s lack of accountability and explanation is concerning given the broader landscape around LGBTQ2S+ equality. In the past month alone, states like Florida, Arizona, and Alabama have passed restrictions on LGBTQ2S+ education in schools and the types of gender-affirming medical care that can be prescribed to trans youth.

“I think what’s frustrating for us is that all of this is taking place in an environment where, state by state, our rights are currently being taken away almost every week – because of the lies, the misinformation, the vitriol being spread by elected officials in the halls of power in places like Texas, Florida and Alabama,” says Ty Cobb, senior director of strategic initiatives and research at HRC. “It doesn’t make sense that a comment like this is taken down and why the community is being censored in this way.”

Cobb adds that if HRC is censored for posting pro-LGBTQ2S+ comments, it’s likely to happen to queer creators with smaller platforms as well. According to Cobb, this possibility is very concerning, especially since they may have little recourse to resolve these issues directly with TikTok.

“It doesn’t make sense that a comment like this is taken down and why the community is being censored in this way.”

“Given the idea that this is due to ‘human error,’ the question is, how often does human error lead to these results?” he says. “And how often does human error lead to these results for queer content creators?”

This is far from the first time that TikTok has come under fire for the way it handles LGBTQ2S+ content on its platform. Its notoriously opaque algorithm has come under fire for promoting homophobic and transphobic videos on its “For You” page, while a 2021 study by Media Matters showed an uptick in anti-LGBTQ2S+ content on the platform. Some videos identified by the progressive media watchdog directly advocated violence against queer and trans people.

TikTok critics have argued that the platform’s algorithm acts as an informal pipeline to white supremacy. Another Media Matters study published last year found that users who interacted with transphobic content were more likely to be recommended videos espousing alt-right and racist ideas, sometimes just hours after interacting with media. anti-LGBTQ2S+.

These results have raised alarm bells among LGBTQ2S+ advocates given that the app’s user base is generally younger than that of most other social networks. In 2020, TikTok reported that more than a third of its US users were 14 or younger.

In response to widespread criticism of its relationship with the LGBTQ2S+ community, the company announced earlier this year that it would include advocacy for dead names, gender errors, misogyny and pro-conversion therapy in its list of actions prohibited under their content moderation policies.

TikTok’s revised content guidelines were reportedly developed in conjunction with GLAAD, which previously criticized TikTok for allegedly failing LGBTQ2S+ users. In 2021, the media advocacy organization called the app a “dangerous” environment for queer and trans people and gave TikTok a failing grade on its now annual Social Media Safety Index. (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube also all received the same score in GLAAD’s survey.)

But HRC says this recent incident points to a need for increased investment from tech companies. It uses platforms like TikTok to educate their content moderation teams on LGBTQ2S+ and ensure that discrimination is not baked into the algorithm itself.

“Overall, I think there needs to be more investment in content moderation and how harmful content and misinformation are handled on each of the platforms,” ​​Cobb says. “The companies that are involved here are all wildly successful companies. They are able to make those investments, and the investments need to get stronger. »

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