OPINION: The arrival of Threads could kill LGBTQ+ free speech

by Noa Elan | Bloom Community
Tuesday, 18 July 2023 08:46 GMT

An attendee records with her phone in front of the stage during LA Pride in the Park concert at Los Angeles State Historic Park in Los Angeles, California, U.S. June 9, 2023. REUTERS/Mike Blake

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

If Meta’s actions in the past few weeks are a sign of what’s to come, Threads looks set to further deepen the censorship of marginalised voices

Noa Elan is CEO of Bloom Community, an event and dating app for alternative people.

When I read Mark Zuckerberg’s long-term vision for Threads, I became increasingly concerned about the future of sexual free speech.

Thanks to its close integration with Instagram, the platform is well-positioned to take advantage of the slow-motion train wreck of Twitter. This means, eventually, Meta will own the vast majority of social media space.

Why is this worrisome? Because when Meta owns content, Meta owns moderation. Meta will become the de facto arbitrator of what voices will and won’t be heard across the web – and it is already letting LGBTQ+ people down.

The promise of social media has always been to give everyone space to be heard. But the reality is, if you are “non-traditional” - LGBTQ+, non-binary, or ethically non-monogamous – social media platforms, including Meta’s Instagram, will routinely censor and remove your content.

According to GLAAD’s Social Media Safety Index, all the major platforms, Twitter, Facebook and TikTok, currently “disproportionately suppress LGBTQ+ content, including via removal, demonetisation, and forms of shadowbanning.”

And it doesn’t end there. Businesses serving these communities, like the neighbourhood gay bar, or a therapist treating trans patients, are just as likely to be excluded.

Imagine you’ve built an Instagram community of tens of thousands of users - your friends, customers, and patrons. Suddenly, and without any reason, your account could be closed. You are left with no one to talk to. It's the equivalent of showing up to the coffee shop you own and discovering it’s been shut down unequivocally with no notice.

In the past two weeks, I have heard from dozens of community members, event producers, educators, venues, and therapists whose accounts have faced restrictions.

Darshana Avila, a certified somatic sex and intimacy coach who was featured on Netflix’s Sex, Love & Goop, discovered her account had been removed by Meta two weeks ago. It was then later restored, with an apology from Meta, only to be taken down again without explanation.

Dr. Stefani Goerlich, a two-time award-winning therapist who is recognised for her work the LGBTQ+ community, was banned from creating Instagram ads to promote her event, Securing Sexuality, a cybersecurity conference for adult businesses.

If Meta’s actions in the past few weeks are a sign of what’s to come, Threads will further deepen this censorship of marginalised voices – particularly among women, queer and trans folk, and sex educators.

A world controlled by a single content creation and distribution platform will inevitably limit and destroy free speech. It will leave us limited to the narrow definitions of traditional, normative, attractive, interesting, and conventional - leaving everyone else behind.

The only solution is to encourage the growth of independent communities designed for free speech with decentralised content moderation that specifically addresses the needs of marginalised communities.

We need platforms built around a censorship-resistant protocol, and for content monetisation to be disconnected from normative corporate advertising spend.

Luckily, sex-positive, decentralised apps – like Bloom Community, Lex, OMGYES and many others – already exist to create a safe space for people to express and connect. It is essential that social media allows everyone to self-identify and self-express.

Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.

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