Blog Post

Safeguarding Digital Pride: Empowering the LGBTQ+ Community Online 

With nearly half of LGBTQ+ individuals reporting online harassment, PUBLIC addresses these issues by calling for innovative safety solutions, robust policies, and collective efforts from platforms to create a safer, more inclusive digital environment.

As Pride Month comes to a close, it's an important time to reflect on  the challenges and opportunities that emerging technologies present in creating a safer, more inclusive online environment for the LGBTQ+ community. 

Over the past five years, PUBLIC has worked with the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) and Ofcom to understand online harms and support the development of online safety tech solutions. PUBLIC’s collaboration with the Online Safety Tech Industry Association (OSTIA) and relationship with the wider Safety Tech ecosystem has helped us pursue our mission to protect users by socialising innovative approaches to online safety policy design, regulatory implementation, and safety by design approaches on platforms. 

The Digital Paradox: Connection and Risk 

The internet has become a crucial space for connection, expression, and activism, especially for LGBTQ+ individuals. Research from Thorn has found that at least three out of four LGBTQ+ minors view their online communities as essential. However, the digital realm features proliferated harm and risks. Nearly half (47%) of LGBTQ+ community members report  being victims of online hate or harassment , demanding a growing call for innovative solutions capable of providing online safety and promoting unity.

While cyberspace connects LGBTQ+ users globally, it also brings significant challenges. Stonewall's response to the Online Safety and Online Harms Inquiry highlighted high levels of hate speech and abuse directed at LGBTQ+ individuals online. 32% of respondents had seen or been subjected to hate speech, with 25% directed at transgender people and 23% against specific sexual orientations. 

LGBTQ+ individuals, including children, face harassment and privacy violations online, often not reporting incidents due to fear of not being taken seriously. These challenges are compounded by intersectionality, where LGBTQ+ individuals who are also minorities or have disabilities face multiple layers of discrimination and harassment online. 

The call for online safety requires international efforts highlighted by events such as in Egypt where the LGBTQ+ community has been targeted through purposeful breaches of online privacy, leading to persecution. 

Allies in Leading Change: Initiatives and Solutions 

Addressing these issues requires clear definitions of harm, comprehensive privacy protections, and active regulation of harmful content. Thankfully, companies are actively listening, and developments in Safety Tech and "Queer Tech" are creating safer spaces for the community in a number of ways:

Policy Design
  • The GLAAD Social Media Safety Program advocates for LGBTQ+ digital safety by collaborating with major tech companies to influence policies and create safer online spaces. Their Social Media Safety Index provides a comprehensive overview of LGBTQ social media safety, addressing issues like hate, disinformation, content suppression, and the link between online hate and offline harm. Despite some improvements, the 2024 SMSI Platform Scorecard shows there’s significant work to be done, with all platforms except TikTok (D+) receiving F grades.
AI to Determine Harassment
  • AI holds promise in creating safer online spaces. While there is scepticism about its safety, many startups like Arwen AI's are using AI  to detect and prevent harmful content, such as hate speech and profanity, seamlessly integrating behind the scenes of social media platforms.
Safety by design in LGBTQ+ Platforms
  • Queer dating apps like Scruff, Her, and Tser offering safer dating experiences are implementing  higher standards of verification, such as selfie matching and robust community guidelines with zero-tolerance policies.
  • Additionally, LEX, an app created to foster safe online LGBTQ+ communities uses minimally invasive questionnaires to moderate participation and aims to reduce screen time to foster off-screen connections. 

Change the Course: Steps Towards a Safer Online Environment

There are still improvements to be made, but with the Internet connecting citizens in powerful new ways, companies must continue to be empowered with the knowledge on how to strengthen their methods to ensure online safety for everyone. PUBLIC’s work in the online safety space and with the Safety Tech ecosystem has raised the profile of solutions capable of contributing towards better outcomes. These include: 

  • Strengthening Policies: Implement and enforce robust policies against hate speech and harassment, with robust reporting mechanisms to protect users. For example, Moonshot CVE created The Redirect Method which uses AI to leverage targeted advertising to guide individuals searching for harmful content online toward positive alternative messages.
  • Enhancing Privacy Protections: Prioritise user privacy with comprehensive controls over personal data and options for anonymous participation.
  • Promoting Media Literacy: Develop and socialise educational resources  about media literacy to combat misinformation and enhance  digital literacy.
  • Ensuring Algorithmic Fairness: Commit to transparency in algorithmic processes, conducting regular audits to eliminate bias and increase  human oversight.

 

Beyond Pride Month: Driving Forward Digital Pride 

While significant strides have been made in policy design, AI advancements, and safety-by-design developments,  the need to keep pace with online-offline harms only grows more important. Combating these issues requires a collective effort from platforms, policymakers, and users to create a safe and equitable internet for all. 

Looking ahead let's renew our commitment to fostering a digital world where everyone can thrive. By prioritising safety and inclusivity, we can harness the power of technology to uplift and support the LGBTQ+ community every day of the year.

At PUBLIC, we remain dedicated to driving innovation in online safety and creating a safer, more empowering online environment for all users. Get in touch with Daniel, Fitter, Director of our Security & Online Safety Team today at daniel.fitter@public.io

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Natasha Wren

Head of Communications

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