The development of the internet and social media platforms including Twitch, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube has seen perpetuating, persistent and often anonymous harassment towards the transgender community. transgender content creators and users of social media platforms have been affected, however, the rate and nature of these comments and interactions varies between platforms.
Online harassment towards transgender individuals can cause and further impact the mental health of members of the transgender community, leading to depression, self harm and higher rates of suicide within the community.
Targeted online comments towards transgender people generally follow the same common themes. These include but aren’t exclusive to; trans people are not the gender they say they are and are defying biology i.e. trans men aren’t men or trans women aren’t women, trans people are in some way abominations, deformed or mutilated and trans people should specifically not be allowed in gender specific areas, an argument often given for debates surrounding bathrooms and changing rooms.
Transgender harassment and abuse has gained traction on Twitter, often spurred on from real life events, using current events or debates as fuel for the targeted activity on the platform. The platform generally provides a signal boost to current events due to the instant nature of the tweets and posts. The topics would trend on the website and while the trending topics don’t prioritise may not prioritise negatively based tweets over positively based tweets, the boost of the trending topics provides this uncensored hate a platform. Recent events such as the release of the Dave Chappelle special Closer or the October 2021 LGB Alliance Conference in the UK have shown this to be a very active and current issue, where anyone can have a voice regarding a current event leading to opportunities of hate speech. This also makes it easier for hate based accounts to find transgender users through the tags for a more targeted harassment approach.
In 2018 there was an announced plan from Twitter to ban hate speech towards transgender people, misgendering and dead naming1. The Twitter terms of service were updated stating, “We prohibit targeting individuals with repeated slurs, tropes or other content that intends to dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes about a protected category. This includes targeted misgendering or dead naming of transgender individuals.” In the following year, as the effectiveness of the new standards were discussed in reports and articles, the plan was ultimately seen as ineffective by reports and activists2.
Reports shared by Ditch the Label and Brandwatch explore the effect and frequency of transphobic hate speech online. In 2019 it was stated that “Eight transphobic posts are shared online every minute in the UK and US” and, comparing YouTube comments to other platforms, “78% were found to be abusive, compared to just 12% on Twitter and 5% on Instagram.”3 Ideally, a ban on transphobic comments and hate speech should not subsequently see 12% of
discussion around trans issues being hateful.
YouTube and other video platforms, as well as news based platforms have a larger amount of hate based speech regarding transgender issues4. 2021 saw a rise in ‘hate raids’ on YouTube and twitch accounts run by members of the transgender community as well as women, LGBTQ individuals and BIPOC creators. The occurrence of hate raids in 2021 saw bots and users on the platforms leaving targeted messages in the streams and comments of transgender creators and streamers, spamming the chat with slurs and intentionally damaging chats.
Hate raids remove the sense of safety and community that marginalized communities find together in streams on twitch and YouTube. The raids also remove the ability for marginalized creators to have a voice, effectively silencing their ability to effectively create content, whether discussing these issues or merely creating a fun space. In a deep discussion around the issue, YouTuber Jessie Gender has described the experience as scary and violating.
With online hate speech increasing and still being allowed on social media platforms, the responsibility lies with the platforms themselves to instate policies and standards to better protect the community. As described, Twitter and Twitch have previously made efforts to minimize targeted hate speech, while these do still occur. A majority of these platforms are owned by larger parent companies including Facebook owning Instagram, Amazon owning Twitch and Google owning YouTube. The companies in charge of these platforms have the resources and responsibility to their users and communities to minimize the impact of the negative comments on the users.
The future of positive trans experiences online and in real life can come from open and real discussion and from allowing trans individuals to have a voice in the discussion. In certain cases, such as the debate around Chapelle’s Closer online or the majority negative comments on video and news platforms or from hate raids essentially shutting down streams of trans individuals, the ability for trans people to have a voice is diminished or removed.
The positive reality of the trans experience online, which is important to acknowledge, comes in the online communities where trans people have been able to thrive, particularly where advocates and activists supporting trans people are vocal members. My personal online experience has been enlightened by the encouraging voices of Jessie Gender, Jammidodger or Samantha Lux on YouTube and on Twitter, Lyra(@pinkrangerlb) a trans Woman Lawyer in Atlanta, who actively fights for and encourages trans experiences through her platform.
I see trans individuals having a voice, through the means of social media that, prior to the modern era, wasn’t available. This chance at a voice and the discussions therein, presents a chance for change and development in how trans and gender diverse people are viewed in the world.
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