Anti-LGBTQ hate surged online after Florida passed a law restricting the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom, a new report found.
This particular hype includes rhetoric suggesting that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people are “hiding” children, and includes slurs such as “groomer”, “pedophile” and “predator” in relation to the LGBTQ community.
In the month since the Florida Senate passed the Parental Rights Bill, dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, on March 8, tweets mentioning the LGBTQ community along with their slurs increased by 406%, according to a report. conducted by the LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign and the nonprofit Center Against Digital Hate.
The law, which went into effect on July 1, prohibits the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity “in kindergarten through 3rd grade or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students according to state standards.”
To assess the rise in rhetoric surrounding “grooming,” the researchers sampled 989,547 tweets posted between January 1 and July 27 that mentioned the LGBTQ community along with the words “groomer” and “pedophile.” They found that an average of 6,607 tweets per day used such rhetoric in the month after the bill was passed, a significant increase from 1,307 tweets the previous month.
On March 28, when Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law, there was also a significant increase in the use of the hashtag #OKGroomer, which the report said was often used as a derogatory response to tweets. From LGBTQ educators, organizations and healthcare providers. The day after DeSantis signed the bill, “OK groomer” reached a tweet peak of 9,219 tweets, or about one every nine seconds, the report found.
The “grooming” rhetoric was spread by “a small group of radical extremists as part of a coordinated and concerted effort to attack LGBTQ+ children in order to rile up extremist members of their base,” the report said.
Tweets from just 10 people, including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., and Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ press secretary, were viewed an estimated 48 million times and were “responsible for driving the ‘care’ narrative,” the researchers found.
“We are in the midst of a growing wave of hate and demonization directed at LGBTQ+ people, often propagated digitally by opportunistic politicians and so-called ‘influencers’ for personal gain,” said Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center Against Digital Hate. according to the press release. “Online hate and lies mirror and reinforce offline violence and hatred. The normalization of anti-LGBTQ+ narratives in digital spaces puts LGBTQ+ people at risk.
In an emailed statement, Pushaw emphasized that Florida’s new law affects those in kindergarten through third grade. However, critics of the law argue that the language can be applied to persons above third grade.
“The opponents of the law are therefore supporting adults who talk to young children about sex and gender behind their parents’ backs. If you know a politically correct word for such behavior, I’m happy to use it instead,” he said. “There are stalkers of all sexual orientations and gender identities. My tweets did not mention LGBTQ people at all. The Florida Parental Rights Act also does not list any identity or orientation.
Pushaw added: “The only party playing into the fantasy are progressive activists who pretend that ‘baiting’ is somehow unique to the ‘LGBTQ community’. It’s not and I don’t understand why the Human Rights Campaign wants the public to think otherwise.”
A spokesman for Greene did not respond to questions about the report’s findings, but encouraged NBC News to be “objective” and shared several links to the congressman’s Twitter posts and articles from the conservative news site Washington Examiner.
Boebert did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ahmed said that Facebook and Twitter state in their rules that they prohibit the use of rhetoric intended to target LGBTQ people, but the report found that the platforms do not always follow these rules.
The researchers used Twitter’s Report a Problem feature to report the 100 most-viewed tweets that used “baiting rhetoric” after July 21, when Twitter told the Daily Dot that calling transgender people “groomers” violated its hate speech policy.
The report found that Twitter did not act on 99% of the 100 tweets.
A Twitter spokesperson confirmed in an emailed statement that the site’s policy prohibits the use of the term “groomer” when used as a descriptor “in the context of gender identity.” A spokesperson said Twitter remains committed to combating abuse motivated by hate or intolerance.
Researchers identified a similar problem at Facebook, whose parent company Meta also told the Daily Dot that calling LGBTQ people “groomers” violates existing policy.
Researchers identified 59 paid ads on Facebook and Instagram promoting the narrative that the LGBTQ community and its allies are “hiding” children. After the researchers reported them, Meta removed only one ad and has since continued to accept and serve other similar ads, the report said.
The report also found that Meta benefited from the ads. According to Meta Ad Library statistics, the company charged up to $24,987 for 59 ads that received more than 2.1 million impressions, the report said.
“The clear message from the social media giants is that they are willing to turn a blind eye,” Ahmed said. LGTBQ+ rights have changed after decades of hard-won progress, but progress is fragile if you don’t continue to defend it.
A Meta spokesperson said in an email: “We have reviewed the ads identified in the report and have taken action against the content that violates our policies.”
Joni Madison, interim president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that the rise of Internet vitriol doesn’t just have political implications — it has deadly real-world consequences, as violent rhetoric leads to stigmatization, radicalization and ultimately violence. “
Some LGBTQ people have reported rhetoric being used against them in verbal attacks. In April, a gay couple said a man on an Amtrak train called them “rapists” and “pedophiles” in front of their children. The report noted that LGBTQ events in recent months have also been targeted by white nationalist groups.
The report makes recommendations to Facebook and Twitter, including that they hire, train and support moderators to eliminate hate and enforce community standards, enforce anti-LGBTQ hate hashtags, and hold them liable for damages if they fail to enforce their community standards. .
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