For LGBTQ+ communities worldwide, social media platforms have become crucial spaces in providing acceptance, connection, and access to important resources. While the internet and social media platforms have the potential to create positive experiences for LGBTQ+ individuals, there are also significant downsides, particularly related to body image and cyberbullying.
Dr. Eliza Byard, Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), emphasizes the impact of the internet on young people's lives, especially LGBTQ+ youth who are highly connected online.
“The Internet impacts almost all aspects of our lives, but is particularly entrenched in the lives of youth, who are the most connected people online in our society. LGBT youth continue to face extraordinary obstacles in their day-to-day lives whether at school or online, but the Internet can be a valuable source of information and support when they have no one or nowhere else left to turn to. As social media evolve, so must our efforts to serve LGBT youth to ensure their safety, health, and well-being.”
In the United States, LGBTQ+ youth are found to use the internet and social media more than their non-LGBTQ+ peers. On average, LGBTQ+ youth spend around 10 hours per day online, further emphasizing that online communities provide a means to connect with fellow LGBTQ+ individuals due to exclusion from their peers IRL.
Accessing online communities has become essential for connection. Online friendships play a vital role in the lives of LGBTQ+ youth. Connecting and maintaining online relationships online allows them to explore their thoughts, feelings, and identities, and learn more about their own sexual orientation or gender identity. Studies indicate that 50% of LGBTQ+ youth have at least one close online friend, compared to only 19% of non-LGBTQ+ youth. Additionally, a study conducted by GLSEN revealed that two-thirds of LGBTQ+ youth have previously used social media platforms to connect with other LGBTQ+ individuals.
Certain spaces on social media platforms, such as Twitter, create opportunities for queer youth to find diverse representations of LGBTQ+ identities and learn about influential or empowering queer activists in the media. The increasing visibility of LGBTQ+ representation not only on social media but now in movies and television thanks to the likes of Hulu and Netflix benefits queer youth by helping them find relatable characters, boosting their confidence, and self-acceptance, and contributing to the broader normalization and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community among non-LGBTQ+ individuals.
Social media platforms, despite providing sanctuaries for the queer community, can also become a double-edged sword. Queer communities have long been targets of bullying, including verbal and physical attacks and, unfortunately, the internet has become a place where such attacks thrive. Cyberbullying, prevalent across many corners of social media, poses a significant problem for queer youth, as they often become targets of hateful messages that profoundly impact their self-esteem.
A study titled "Out Online: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth on the Internet" sought to examine queer experiences online. The study found that LGBTQ+ youth are three times more likely to experience online bullying compared to their non-LGBTQ+ peers (42% vs. 15%) and are twice as likely to experience bullying via text (27% vs. 13%). Additionally, 1 in 4 LGBTQ+ youth reported being specifically targeted and bullied due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Alarmingly, 27% of LGBTQ+ respondents expressed feeling unsafe online. The study, however, also highlighted the positive influence of social media and the internet, as they enable queer youth to search for information about sexuality, access health resources, find friends, and engage in civic activities.
Additionally, a recent report by the Anti-Defamation League revealed that 66% of LGBTQ+ people who responded to the survey experienced online harassment, compared to non-LGBTQ+ people who reported 38%. GLAAD urged social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Tiktok, Youtube, and Twitter to do more to protect queer communities and take down misinformation that has promoted untrue and at times homophobic and transphobic stereotypes and messages. They assigned each platform a letter grade to assess how well each platform performs in protecting queer users. All platforms received a failing grade.
Regardless, social media platforms can and should do more to combat cyberbullying and provide greater support to underrepresented queer communities. According to a report by GLAAD, 84% of LGBTQ+ adults believe that there are insufficient protections on social media platforms to prevent discrimination, harassment, and the spread of disinformation. GLAAD urged platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, YouTube, and Twitter to take stronger action in protecting queer communities and removing misinformation that promotes homophobic and transphobic stereotypes. Alarmingly, all platforms received a failing grade in GLAAD's assessment of their performance. Furthermore, a recent report by the Anti-Defamation League revealed that 66% of LGBTQ+ respondents experienced online harassment, compared to 38% among non-LGBTQ+ individuals.
GLAAD President and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis states:
"Today's political and cultural landscapes demonstrate the real-life harmful effects of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and misinformation online. The hate and harassment, as well as misinformation and flat-out lies about LGBTQ people, that go viral on social media, are creating real-world dangers, from legislation that harms our community to the recent threats of violence at Pride gatherings."
To create a safer and more inclusive online environment, social media platforms should take more substantial steps to protect queer communities and promote acceptance. It is imperative for these platforms to prioritize the well-being of LGBTQ+ individuals, eliminate cyberbullying, and combat the spread of hateful and false narratives. By doing so, social media can become a space where acceptance, support, and vibrant LGBTQ+ communities flourish, rather than fostering hate and misinformation.
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto: https://www.pexels.com/photo/women-using-laptops-4132394/