Meta should do more to safeguard LGBTQIA+ users being targeted on its platforms, a leading human rights organisation has said. 

Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental organisation that defends the rights of people in more than 100 countries globally, has warned of the “offline consequences” members of the community face when subjected to abuse on social media.

Its new ‘Secure Our Socials’ campaign, which was launched as a result of the organisation’s ‘All This Terror Because of a Photo’ report from 2023, calls on platforms to be more transparent and accountable by publicly sharing data on investment and how it handles user safety. 

The report looked into how security forces digitally targeted LGBTQIA+ people in Tunisia, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt and found that they had been using social media platforms (including Facebook and Instagram) to harass and entrap LGBTQIA+ people.

“It is so vital for these mediums to be available for people safely”

Rasha Younes, Interim Co-Deputy Director on LGBTQIA+ Rights at Human Rights Watch, interviewed 120 people from the five countries in what she said shows “a snapshot of what is happening on a daily basis”. 

“The LGBT people that we interviewed reported losing their jobs, being subjected to family violence (including conversion practices), having to change their place of residence and even flee the country, as well as experiencing severe mental health consequences for many years to come as a result of being targeted online, including on Facebook and Instagram,” said Younes during a Zoom call with GAY TIMES

“They lived in self isolation, they started to self-censor online. It is so vital for these mediums to be available for people safely and this is why we decided to launch a campaign, because this is a global issue.”

The report also brought to light that security forces have used social media to gather – and even fabricate – evidence to prosecute LGBTQIA+ people in the aforementioned countries. 

“While we know that individuals have rights and they should not allow security forces to search their phones, when you have basically a gun to your head, you’re going to hand over your phone,” explained Younes. 

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“A lot of the time, either chats are straight up fabricated in the sense that if security forces don’t find any evidence of sexual orientation or gender diversity on the phone, they would download Grindr, for example, and upload pornographic photos of gay men to entrap and prosecute LGBT people in this way, specifically gay men and transgender women in this regard, and then in other cases, purely digital ‘evidence’ – and I put evidence in quotes – is used to secure individuals, prosecutions, either under a combination of laws that criminalise same-sex activity, or purely based on cybercrime laws, or purely based on anti-LGBT laws.”

Meta’s current policies and standards ban abuse on its platforms, with hate speech defined as “a direct attack against people” that is also explicitly prohibited. 

“We also prohibit the use of harmful stereotypes, which we define as dehumanising comparisons that have historically been used to attack, intimidate or exclude specific groups, and that are often linked with offline violence,” the company’s guidelines state. 

However, the research conducted by Human Rights Watch found that content targeting the LGBTQIA+ community sometimes remained on Meta’s platforms even when it violated its policies.

Some users face “offline consequences” including arrest, detention and torture

The organisation is now urging Meta to implement a number of measures to ensure that LGBTQIA+ users are as protected as possible. 

Discussing this in more detail, Younes said: “What we’re asking Meta to do is, as an initial step, disclose annual investment, be transparent, right? 

“As a second step, we enquire about the number of content moderators, the diversity of content moderators, their regional expertise and political independence. Are they homophobic? Are they not? Are they vetted for this type of requirement or qualification?”

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She further explained that “high risk regions” need a “rapid response mechanism to ensure that LGBT-specific complaints are reviewed by a human with regional subject matter and linguistic expertise in a timely manner”. 

“A lot of the time, when something is posted on Instagram, it very quickly migrates to Twitter and Facebook and WhatsApp and Telegram and all the other platforms in a way that makes it very difficult to control and then the adverse impact that that has on individual users who would face offline consequences such as arrest, detention, torture because of an online post,” added Younes. 

GAY TIMES has contacted Meta for comment.