Monday, December 19, 2022

Congressional exchange


 Last week, The House Oversight Committee held a hearing on the rise in violence aimed at LGBTQ+ members.  US House Rep Katie Porter in the exchange below is speaking to the second panel made up of Human Rights Campaign's Kelley Robinson, Pulse Nightclub shooting survivor Brandon Wolf, National Center for Transgender Equality's Oliva Hunt, Inside Out Youth Services' Jessie Pocock and The Williams Institute's Ilan Meyer.


US House Rep Katie Porter: I wanted to start with Ms. Robinson, if I could.  Your organization recently released a report analyzing the five hundred most viewed, most influential Tweets that identified LGBTQ people as so called "groomers."  The groomer narrative is an age old lie to position LGBTQ+ people as a threat to kids and what it does is to deny them access to public spaces and it stokes fear and it even stokes violence.  Ms. Robinson, according to its own hateful content policy does Twitter allow posts calling LGBTQ people "groomers"?

Kelley Robinson: No, I mean Twitter along with FACEBOOK and many others have community guidelines.  It's about holding users accountable and acknowledging that when we use phrases and words like "groomers" and "pedophiles" to describe people, individuals in our community that are mothers, that are fathers, that are teachers, that are doctors,  it is dangerous.  And it's got one purpose -- it's to dehumanize us and make us feel like we're not a part of this American society and it has real life consequences.  So we are calling on social media companies to uphold their community standards.  And we're also calling on any American that's seeing this play out to hold ourselves and our community members accountable.  We wouldn't accept this in our families, we wouldn't accept this in our schools.  There's no reason to accept it online. 

US House Rep Katie Porter: So I think you're absolutely right and it's not just this allegation of groomer and pedophile, it's alleging that a person is criminal somehow and engaged in criminal acts merely because of their identity, their sexual orientation, their gender identity.  So this is clearly prohibited under Twitter's content yet you found hundreds of these posts on the platform.  Your team filed complaints about these posts, correct?

Kelley Robinson: Yes.

US House Rep Katie Porter: And how often did Twitter act to take down these posts which violated its own content policy?

Kelley Robinson: Very rarely.  

US House Rep Katie Porter: So from our calculation, it looks like about 99% of your complaints.  They basically acted on one or two of the 100+ complaints you filed. Instead of taking them down, Twitter elevated them.  Allowing them to reach an approximate 72 million users.  This is not just about what happens online.  What happens online translates into real harm in people's lives.  Ms. Popcock, you provide services to a community that experienced the devastating LGBTQ attack.  Can you provide some examples of the link between speech online and the attacks against providers like you.  

Jesse Pocock: We know really, I mean, online threats, in addition to creating an atmosphere of bullying for young people, it also creates an atmosphere of delegitimizing our real professional trained work at INSIDE OUT YOUTH services.  And it is just so critically important that we can continue doing the work that we do.  But I want to tell just one quick story because it's beautiful.  We have an online community center and it is moderated by peer advisors and when asked how many issues of like fighting or contention do you deal with on the disport server our young people tell us "Well, it doesn't happen very often."  So I'm here to tell you that our young people have figured out how to moderate platforms in positive, productive ways?  Twitter, FACEBOOK, everybody else can figure it out too.  

US House Rep Katie Porter: Absolutely.  Ms. Robinson, your report notes that these radicalizing posts, these 'groomer' posts, these other posts that attack LGBTQ communities are related to acts in the real world -- what happens online is often reflective of what happens in the real world.  After Governor DeSantis of Florida passed his so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill, what trends did you observe online with regard to 'grooming' related discourse.  

Kelley Robinson: Unfortunately, we saw a 400% increase on Twitter of this sort of hateful language.  Particularly calling our community members groomers and pedophiles.  And we know that rather or not the bills move into effect, the lasting impact of that online bullying of defining our communities in that way, it sticks -- especially with our kids. 

US House Rep Katie Porter: My time has expired but I just want to say I'm proud today, I'm proud to stand with the gay community and I'm proud that you're all here as part of our country and giving us testimony.  I yield back, Madam Chair.







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