Those who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community are often the targets of online harassment, and those threats can have fatal consequences. The transgender community in particular faces targeted attacked that are oftentimes “inhumane” or “abusive,” according to a new study from watchdog nonprofit Media Matters for America, and, in some cases, life-threatening. And while social media platforms might not outwardly condone transphobia, they certainly aren’t afraid to make a quick buck off of it.
The study found that, by and large, the articles, videos, and pieces of content that perform the best on Facebook are consistently those coming from squarely right-wing sources. According to the study—which combed through 225 pieces of viral content on trans-related topics across the platform—again and again, the highest-performing pieces with the most thumbs up, comments, or shares came from outlets like the Daily Caller or the Daily Wire that regularly present transgender people as menaces to society, rather than just people.
According to the Media Matters team, the 225 pieces racked up 66 million interactions between them, over the span of a year. Of those 66 million, close to 66%—or more than 43 million interactions—came from these far-right sources. On the other hand, just over 15%—or roughly 10 million interactions—came from LGBT-focused outlets
Let’s break that down a bit. First, we know from a 2019 Pew Research poll that Facebook has a nearly even split—35% and 34% respectively—between users that consider themselves some sort of liberal or some sort of conservative. But we know from other research that those with a conservative bent are more far likely to share (and fall for) news articles that reinforce their preexisting point-of-view, even if they’re sensationalistic or downright debunkable. Back in 2016, one of the peddlers behind these sorts of pieces told NPR explicitly that this sort of content “never takes off” among the liberal crowd. “You’ll get debunked within the first two comments, and then the whole thing just kind of fizzles out,” he explained.
With that in mind, it’s distressing—though not very surprising—to hear that transphobic content is absolutely crushing it across Facebook. After all, conservatives haven’t really kept a secret about how icky and gross they find transgender-related topics overall. And when these same groups are itching to share their side of the story more than their more nuanced, left-leaning brethren, you get the numbers described in this study. But because a good half of Americans get at least some of their news on Facebook, that means that the bulk of people are reading stories about the transgender community that, again, paints them as icky leches on society, instead of just normal people living their normal lives.
Twenty-one transgendered people have been murdered this year. It’s difficult to pinpoint a direct link between the spread of transphobic articles on Facebook and violence against the transgender community, but the mindset is clearly a dangerous one.