A report by researchers from Western Sydney University explores how sexuality and gender-diverse young people used social media platforms during COVID-19. The researchers also made recommendations to ensure better support for LGBTQIA+ people online.
The report found that homes were at times difficult spaces for LGBTQIA+ people during lockdown. However, young people largely used this time to explore their identities online, particularly through interacting on social media platforms.
The research team earlier interviewed 65 LGBTQIA+ people aged 16–30 from diverse cultural backgrounds across Australia.
Lead author was Dr Benjamin Hanckel from the University’s Young and Resilient Research Centre.
“During the lockdown period, queer young people were actively understanding, exploring and developing who they are in terms of their gender and sexuality.
“Engagement on social media platforms played an important role in this development. The findings show many young people curated ‘happy’ spaces for themselves online by connecting with people from across the broader LGBTQIA+ community.
“This allowed them to carefully and safely explore their identities and interests.”
Social media hate speech
Co-author Dr Shiva Chandra said despite the positive findings, participants of the study noted a lack of diversity in LGBTQIA+ content, concerns about LGBTQIA+ content removal, and the persistence of hate speech against sexuality and gender diverse people.
“Some young people reported difficulties finding others online with similar identities to themselves. This included race, ethnicity, disability, neurodiversity, as well as more generally a lack of diverse LGBTQIA+ representation.
“Other concerns raised included the unexpected removal of LGBTQIA+ content from platforms themselves, and the persistence of trans/homo/bi-phobic content, which young people in this study
“We believe more can be done to improve the experiences of LGBTQIA+ youths online.”
Recommendations to ensure better support forLGBTQIA+ people
The authors recommended social media platforms:
Ensure clear policies so that queer content does not get shutdown, shadow-banned, banned or demonetised without proper justification.
Elevate and promote LGBTQIA+ content, and when doing so support LGBTQIA+ content producers so they do not have to face trans/bi/homophobia when their content is promoted.
Clearer moderation policies to explain what is not acceptable on platforms.
Greater investment into responses to hate speech and censorship.
Dr Hanckel further explained that young people in this study discussed a number of issues at length.
“[They] advocated for new approaches to addressing hate speech, including educating perpetrators and bystanders.
“All platforms need to show a genuine commitment to supporting LGBTQIA+ people by taking a supportive public position on LGBTQIA+ issues at all times and ensuring that this is clearly embedded on platforms.”
Josh Machin, Head of Policy at Facebook Australia, said Facebook took the report seriously.
“This research demonstrates the power of platforms like Facebook and Instagram to empower the LGBTQIA+ community in times of hardship and to create safe online spaces…
“As proud allies to the LGBTQIA+ community, Facebook takes this report’s recommendations seriously. We regularly consult with the community on our policies and products, partner with queer
organisations like Mardi Gras and Minus18, and create specific resources to protect LGBTQIA+ people on our platforms. We are committed to continuing this work, and doing all we can to ensure
the wellbeing and safety of the LGBTQIA+ community across our platforms.”
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