I’m a transgender American whose job is to combat disinformation in the media. Facebook’s choice to censor U.S. Rep. Marie Newman’s (D-Ill.) supportive post about her transgender daughter — while leaving up U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Ga.) transphobic response — is an appalling example of the double standard that allows conservative disinformation to go unchecked and allows transphobia to flourish online.
Last week, Rep. Greene attempted to block the Equality Act, federal legislation that would guarantee explicit, permanent protections for LGBTQ people under our nation's existing civil rights laws. In response, Rep. Newman, whose office is across the hall from Rep. Greene’s, put up a transgender pride flag.
Rep. Greene then put up a transphobic sign with disinformation outside her office: disinformation that, by Facebook and Twitter’s standards, violates their community standards and policies. Both members posted videos of their actions, but only one got taken down: Rep. Newman’s supportive post.
Facebook eventually restored Rep. Newman’s post after her office reached out, and progressive and civil rights groups, including NARAL, where I do my advocacy, also pushed Facebook. However, this move is too little, too late when considering the message Facebook sent by censoring a mother showing support for her transgender child and all transgender Americans.
Unfortunately, this censorship by Facebook is exactly what Republicans have been working toward. Rep. Greene is no stranger to pushing bogus claims that top tech companies have an anti-conservative “bias” against her and her dangerous allies. These baseless accusations pressure tech giants like Twitter and Facebook to look the other way, while holding progressive organizations and leaders to a different set of rules.
In reality, Republicans’ phony cries of “censorship” have succeeded in bullying tech platforms into setting up a double standard that allows conservative disinformation to run virtually unchecked.
I’ve seen this transphobic double-standard first hand. I’ve been suggested phony “detransition” videos from anti-LGBTQ hate groups on YouTube after watching content from transgender creators. I’ve seen public figures like Donald Trump, J.K. Rowling, and Rep. Greene spout transphobia unchecked, all the while decrying “censorship” and “cancel culture” the moment they get a whiff of accountability. Meanwhile, I’ve had friends get blocked from Facebook for changing their name to reflect their true selves before it removed its “real name policy.”
Every day, I see disinformation about my own body spread far and wide by huge, verified platforms — only to see users banned from Twitter or Facebook when they try to dispel their lies.
By folding to Republican politicians and right-wing activists and failing to check the flood of disinformation, social media companies have been complicit in the right’s efforts to undermine democracy, hurt public health, and put transgender Americans like me in danger.
Until progressives can be equally bold in demanding robust protections against online disinformation, tech companies will continue to be cowed by Republican demands and complicit in the right’s attacks on democracy. Rep. Newman is a champion for transgender people and all Americans. Her efforts to have her video reposted sends a message that she will not back down in her support of transgender Americans like her daughter, even when it means standing up to tech giants. We need more lawmakers to do the same.