LGBTQ+ cyberbullying: Tackling a curse of the digital age

cyberbullying lgbtq

Cyberbullying of the LGBTQ+ community is rife online, proving that, despite our technological progress, the human race still can’t seem to help itself when it comes to attacking others.

But, as Karen Holden, Founder of A City Law Firm, outlines below, there are steps that can be taken by both companies and individuals to stamp it out… 

Karen Holden
Karen Holden, Founder, A City Law Firm

Technology has improved the way we work and live. It’s part of our everyday routines from emails, instant messaging like Slack and WhatsApp and various social platforms. 

Unfortunately, some users misuse this technology through targeting and intentionally hurting people. 

Despite how far the UK has come in encouraging diversity and establishing new and improved Equality regulations and rights, there are still many incidents and concerns over LGBTQ+ discrimination, especially online. 

An Online Hate Crime Report revealed 78% of respondents had experienced online anti-LGBTQ+ hate crime or hate speech in the last 5 years. 

Over a quarter of victims did not report their online abuse to anybody. Over 50% of respondents didn’t report it to social media companies and less than 10% reported their abuse to the police.

Rainbow flag office LGBTQ ©Mark Johnson
Corporate responsibility: All businesses have a duty to stamp out cyberbullying including that of the LGBTQ community. 

Platform hosts and cyberbullying

Online cyberbullying isn’t always easy to stop or identify the perpetrator. It also isn’t always clear what actions can and can’t be taken against the user. 

This is where we turn to those hosting the sites, forums and social media groups. What obligations do they have to scrutinise what is being published; if there is a complaint, are they required to remove it and are they accountable for the loss or injury these comments cause?

Whether a business owner, employer or platform host you should understand your responsibilities; the laws and rights available and encourage a transparent set of processes, policies or terms to avoid discrimination, harassment, defamation or online bullying from taking place or continuing. 

Only with a united stance will these nasty incidents be minimised, or even better, become a thing of the past.

Hate Incidents and Hate Crimes

Hate incidents are acts of violence or hostility directed at people because of who they are or who someone thinks they are. 

If someone behaves this way towards someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity this is known as a homophobic or transphobic hate incident.

lgbtq equality online
Long road to equality: LGBTQ attacks of any kind, including online, are classed as hate crimes. 

This also applies if the perpetrator believes you’re a LGBTQ+ person even if you’re not. 

Additionally, you can also be the victim of a hate incident because of your association or for being an ally of the LGBTQ+ community.

Hate incidents can happen anywhere including online. It can be known, or unknown assailants causing the fear and upset. 

This can be in the forms of emails, instant messages, posted comments on forums or social media like Twitter or Instagram. The posting can be in writing or pictures: teasing, bullying, of threatening behaviour, persistent online abuse, inciting others to post abuse or worse cause physical damage or assaults. 

It can be a one-off incident or ongoing harassment or intimidation.

When a homophobic or transphobic hate incident becomes a criminal offence, it’s known as a hate crime under the Criminal Justice Act 2003. This is where someone is frightened, intimidated or a victim of violence or threat of violence due to their sexual or perceived orientation. 

This means it should be reported to the police.

Employers’ responsibilities

Employers are under a duty to investigate reports, of this nature, if made by an employee who fears it is from a colleague or client for example, or the comments are on the employer’s platform or email accounts. 

Its policies regarding harassment and grievances should be followed to enable a thorough investigation and applicable warnings or dismissals addressed unless it is deemed also a police matter in which case it must be also reported. 

An employer may have access to the IP addresses and login details of the perpetrators which makes this an easier process. 

amaon float pride london 2019 ©Mark Johnson
Corporate Pride: Some big tech firms like Amazon show strong support for their LGBT!+ employees.

Employers are responsible for following a fair process or they themselves could become liable for discriminatory treatment or unfair dismissal claims. 

An open forum or HR dialogue should be encouraged to support employees who otherwise may be afraid to speak out and seek support.

Is enough being done by social media platforms?

If postings are on platforms like Facebook or Twitter and it’s not a work-related matter, how do you approach these large organisations, often overseas, outside potentially of the reach of the police’s jurisdiction?

Many websites and platforms’ Terms of Use expressly prohibit bullying, hate crime and harassment and if reported the content and/or bully should be removed from the site in a swift manner. 

However, some platforms are more efficient than others.

There are active programs like The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) who teamed up with Facebook to reduce the amount of hate speech and anti-gay bullying that goes on around the internet. 

lgbtq cyberbullying and social media
Social dilemma: Social media giants have a duty to tackle LGBTQ cyberbullying.

Fortunately, GLAAD was able to work with Facebook to remove content that was deemed to be harassment and incidents of hate, but what action against the instigator subsequently took place?

Twitter for example says that if someone violates their ‘Hateful Conduct‘ policy they may ask them to remove the violating content and serve a period of time in read-only mode before they can Tweet again. 

Subsequent violations will lead to longer read-only periods and may eventually result in permanent account suspension. If an account is engaging primarily in abusive behaviour, or is deemed to have shared a violent threat, they said they will permanently suspend the account upon initial review. 

There is no mention of reporting this to the authorities – do they, will they? How good are the verification processes that the user details are genuine for someone to follow up incidents of hate crime? 

If these are more solid this could potentially prevent people hiding behind fake profiles making such comments as they are more likely to be held accountable. 

These underlying issues still need to be addressed and improvements like these would likely create a safer online space.

Protecting yourself 

Many incidents of cyberbullying in the LGBTQ+ community start from school age. Many being too afraid to let their teachers or parents know. 

So, whilst these online platforms need to tighten their processes to address these awful occurrences this can only be achieved if people are encouraged to speak out. 

Providing safe forums, people that will listen and take action, as well as support and guidance is a step in the right direction.

There are also a few practical things you can do:

  • Familiarise with the Terms of Use before joining online platforms 
  • Change your privacy settings.
  • Block and un-friend
  • Come off the account where the abuse is taking place and don’t respond
  • Gather evidence – save any harassing comments messages or emails (print screen in case it gets deleted)
  • Report it immediately to the site, police or otherwise (if it’s a serious threat make sure you report it to the police)
  • Tell someone that you trust  
  • Be supported; talk to a support group, specialist police unit or your employer, don’t be alone in this

Even if a post is not directed at you, but you deem this hateful, report it as only then can the parties address this behaviour effectively.

It’s clear a hurdle for tackling cyberbullying effectively is accountability. We live in a society that protects free speech highly. This means many people believe that they can say whatever they want, to whomever they want.

But that’s not the case, there are laws to protect people. 

However, the lines are somewhat blurry and enforcement isn’t always consistent.

A cultural shift is needed starting from schools, running through employers and businesses to support diversity and ultimately platform hosts and websites have a duty to work together to protect people. 

Abuse should be addressed immediately and they should share the responsibility of accountability and reporting.