Pride Month 2024: Do LGBTQ+ People Feel Safe Online?

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In the 21st century, our life without access to the internet is hard. From entertainment to shopping to everyday amenities, connected technology is becoming a base need.

And connecting with each other plays a large role, with a May 2024 report by Smart Insights highlighting that over 60% of the world’s population, or over 5 billion people,  uses social media.

But does everyone feel equally safe online?

Over half of LGBTQ+ adults who use social media platforms have experienced anti-LGBTQ+ hate or harassment online at some point in their lives, a report by LGBT Tech, also from May 2024, noted.

What are some of the main challenges LGBTQ+ adults encounter online, and how can we as a people address them?

Key Takeaways

  • Over 90% of LGBTQ+ adults use the internet daily, highlighting its importance for communication, self-expression, and accessing vital resources.
  • While social media provides critical spaces for LGBTQ+ individuals to connect and express themselves, it also exposes them to significant risks of harassment and hate speech.
  • Transgender individuals face higher rates of online harassment.
  • Social media companies must do more to protect LGBTQ+ users, including promptly addressing reports of hateful content and fostering supportive, inclusive online communities.

How the Internet Empowers LGBTQ+ Individuals

According to the report by LGBT Tech, over 90% of LGBTQ+ adults use the internet in the 21st century, with 79% having used social media platforms to connect with peers and express their identity.

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Apart from a means through which LGBTQ+ adults can express their identities, the internet is also a common source for educational support services, especially for younger LGBTQ+ adults and those who come from marginalized backgrounds.

In addition, LGBT Tech’s report found that the internet is especially crucial for transgender individuals because they see it as a space to which they can turn for healthcare support and LGBTQ+-friendly employment opportunities.

The Internet’s importance is further emphasized by the widespread use of social media among LGBTQ+ individuals, who rely on social networking sites to build connections and find information.

We must emphasize the need to preserve young people’s access to online platforms, especially since Congress and state legislatures across the United States are debating whether restrictions should be placed on social media access, specifically TikTok.

The Internet’s Role in Identity and Self-Expression

Perhaps one of the biggest roles that social network sites and the internet overall play in the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals is the identity and self-expression opportunities they provide them.

Nearly 3 in 4 LGBTQ+ adults surveyed by LGBT Tech said that online spaces have had either ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ of impact on discovering or helping them learn more about their identity.

The anonymity that oftentimes comes along with online spaces could be one of the reasons why more LGBTQ+ adults are more likely to be open about their sexual orientation and gender identity online than in real life.

The report further noted:

“Sixty-nine percent of LGBTQ+ adults say they are open to “everyone” or “most” of their online community about their sexual orientation or gender identity. While more LGBTQ+ adults report being open to all or most of their friends (76%), fewer LGBTQ+ adults report being open to all or most of their family (57%), workplace (47%), and religious community (25%).”

Trans Adults Most Likely to Experience Online Hate

However, the anonymity that online spaces oftentimes provide individuals with while helping foster openness and higher levels of self-disclosure, could also lead to negative experiences, namely online hate and anti-LGBTQ+ experiences.

According to the survey by LGBT Tech, around 80% of surveyed transgender adults said that they fell victim to anti-LGBTQ+ hate or harassment online either from people they knew, strangers, or both.

Speaking with Techopedia, freelance reporter Nicholas Fearn said that as a journalist he relies a lot on X both as a source for finding sources and promoting his work, but also for sharing personal updates.

In 2023, Fearn broke up with his fiancé and used social media to share his experience and cope with the emotional aftermath.

“I have definitely received homophobic abuse online, mostly on X. For example, I posted a viral tweet after experiencing a messy breakup at the start of 2023, and many of the comments were very nasty.”

Despite the negative comments, Fearn says that he does not want to shy away from sharing his personal dating experiences on social media.

“I am aware that if I post, for example, a selfie of me and a guy I am dating, I may get hateful comments. But I will not let the trolls silence me.”

The report by LGBT Tech also found some positive outcomes, stating that a majority of LGBTQ+ adults feel somewhat safe online. This does not, however, undermine the need for more changes.

Social Media Companies Should Do More

Because social media platforms serve as crucial spaces for LGBTQ+ individuals to express their identities, connect with like-minded people, and find support more needs to be done by social media companies to make sure members of the LGBTQ+ community feel safe while using their favourite platforms.

LGBT Tech highlighted that it is imperative for social media platforms to connect LGBTQ+ adults with supportive communities that will allow them to express their identities freely.

Fearn added that social media companies should strive to do more to protect LGBTQ+ users from hateful posts and comments.

“If you file a report about a homophobic or misogynistic post, it should be taken down straight away. There are no excuses for such vile behavior. It would be considered a hate crime in real life – so why are we not treating these posts as such in the virtual world?”

The Bottom Line

In a world where over 60% of the global population uses social media, ensuring everyone feels safe online is crucial. The internet is vital for LGBTQ+ individuals, offering self-expression, community building, and access to essential healthcare and education resources.

However, many, especially transgender individuals, face harassment and hate speech, and the LGBT Tech survey underscores the need for social media companies to enhance safety measures, promptly address hateful content, and foster supportive communities.

Meanwhile, as debates over social media restrictions continue, preserving access while ensuring safety remains essential.

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Iliana Mavrou
Crypto journalist
Iliana Mavrou
Crypto journalist

Iliana is an experienced crypto/tech journalist reporting on blockchain, regulation, DeFi, and Web3 industries. Before joining Techopedia, she contributed to a number of online publications, including Capital.com, Cryptonews, and Business2Community, among others. In addition to working in journalism, she also has experience in tech and crypto PR.  Iliana graduated from the City University of London with a degree in Journalism in 2021. She is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Communication.