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'Don't Say Gay' Law Fuels Anti-LGBTQ+ Bigotry Online: Report

Hands holding a phone upon which social media apps are visible.

Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook stood idly by and allowed right-wing users to attack LGBTQ+ people as "groomers."

Twitter and Facebook are victimizing LGBTQ+ communities with digital hate. The Center for Countering Digital Hate and Human Rights Campaign released a new report Wednesday that finds both platforms are failing to enforce community standards following Florida's 'don't say gay' law.

As a result of Florida's discriminatory law passing, extremist politicians and their allies launched an unprecedented and dangerous anti-LGBTQ+ misinformation campaign. There has been an increase in discriminatory and inflammatory "grooming" content on social media, according to the report.

Increasingly, digital media is being used to spread dangerous rumors about LGBTQ+ people, says Digital Hate: Social Media's Role in Amplifying Dangerous Lies About LGBTQ+ People. For example, a 406 percent increase was observed in tweets about LGBTQ+ people using slurs like "groomer" and "pedophile" after the passage of Florida legislation. As a result, online homophobia and transphobia exploded, which social media platforms failed to curb but rather exploited.

One alarming trend is the prevalence of the false, dangerous and bigoted belief that LGBTQ+ people groom children for sexual exploitation. Its origin dates back to February, but it wasn't until March 4 that it went mainstream, when Republican Florida Gov. DeSantis' press secretary, Christina Pushaw, who until recently was a freelance political consultant specializing in Eastern European geopolitics, tweeted, "The bill that liberals inaccurately call "Don't Say Gay" would be more accurately described as an Anti-Grooming Bill."

She followed that up with a further inflammation of the rhetoric.

"If you're against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer, or at least you don't denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children," she wrote. "Silence is complicity. This is how it works, Democrats, and I didn't make the rules."

The report also indicates that anti-LGBTQ+ content is primarily the work of a small group of extremist politicians and allies. To rile up their extreme base, they are launching a coordinated and concerted attack on LGBTQ+ kids ahead of the midterm elections.

Just ten people drove 66 percent of impressions for the 500 most viewed hateful "grooming" tweets, including Pushaw, extreme Congress members like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Rep. Lauren Boebert, and pro-Trump activists such as Chaya Raicheck, founder of "Libs of TikTok." It is estimated that 48 million people consumed these tweets, contributing to the 72 million total views mentioning "grooming."

In response to news coverage, including a Fox News segment claiming "liberals are sexually grooming elementary students" and a segment on Real America's Voice where Georgia's Greene was interviewed, tweet activity mentioning a version of the "groomer" slur spiked. In discussing the bill, she called the Democrats the "party of pedophiles."

Twitter failed to enforce its policies against anti-LGBTQ+ slurs, which resulted in these posts gaining incredible exposure. The report found that Twitter didn't take action on 99 percent of the 100 hateful tweets study researchers anonymously reported after the platform said grooming slurs are against its hate speech policies.

The study states that despite policies prohibiting anti-LGBTQ+ content on Facebook and Instagram, only one paid ad promoting the same narrative was removed.

"As social media platforms fail to enforce their own standards -- enabling a wave of online anti-LGBTQ+ hate to grow without restraint -- extremists are wielding dangerous influence, seeking to radicalize Americans, incite hate against LGBTQ+ people, and mobilize the extremists within their base ahead of the midterm elections," HRC Interim President Joni Madison said in a statement announcing the report. "But the rise of this online vitriol doesn't just have political implications -- there are deadly, real world consequences as violent rhetoric leads to stigma, radicalization, and ultimately violence."

Similarly, the CEO of CCDH, Imran Ahmed, called attention to how insincere politicians use LGBTQ+ people for their own ends and warned of the severe consequences of doing so.

"Online hate and lies reflect and reinforce offline violence and hate. The normalization of anti-LGBTQ+ narratives in digital spaces puts LGBTQ+ people in danger," Ahmed said in a statement. "Facebook and Twitter claim in their rules to prohibit this kind of targeted hate and harassment, but they simply don't enforce those rules on bad actors -- rules which are designed to protect others' rights."

Ahmed added, "The clear message from social media giants is that they are willing to turn a blind eye. LGTBQ+ rights have been transformed after decades of hard-won progress, but progress is fragile unless you continue to defend it."

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