Current events

International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia: hate shifts to the internet

  Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia: hate shifts to the internet

Foto: Freepik

Beatriz Gonzlez
The majority of online attacks on the LGBT community go unreported

According to a report by App Annie, the amount of time we spend on social media and other mobile applications has risen by 20%, a phenomenon for which the recent lockdown is largely responsible. These spaces are used primarily for the purposes of socializing and entertainment but can also serve as platforms for harassment and abuse.

This is backed up by the results of a study conducted just over a year ago by America's Anti-Defamation League (ADL) which aimed to investigate the reasons behind cyberbullying on the internet. The conclusion? A total of 11% of online aggression took the form of verbal attacks or harassment against people based on their sexual orientation. In some countries, these kinds of online insults and attacks are commonplace: according to data from the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI), sexual orientation was the number one reason for online attack in Argentina last year despite the fact that it has now been thirty years since homosexuality was removed from the WHO list of mental illnesses.

In the words of UOC Faculty of Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunications professor, Susanna Tesconi, "Not only does social media promote visibility for certain groups, it also facilitates anonymity, and because there is no face-to-face interaction it becomes a space for the propagation of hate messages, harassment and other abuse. The LGTB community is one of the targets of this breeding ground of hate messages and, as a result, it really feels as though we've regressed."

The statistics for Spain also point to an increase in cyber-homophobia. In its 2018 annual report the Madrid Observatory against LGTB-phobia reported 345 incidents of hatred against the LGTB collective in the Community of Madrid alone and, although many took the form of attacks on the street (42.9%), the online environment was the second most common setting for abuse. The Observatory Against Homophobia (OCH) also reported over a hundred attacks on the LGBT community in Catalonia, with the internet and social media responsible for the second highest number of cases.

As Tesconi explained, social media amplifies the trends and phenomena seen in society, which means that "if there are attitudes of hatred and exclusion towards the LGBT community, this will be reflected online and is likely to be amplified, as it facilitates the diffusion of this type of content." Begonya Enguix, doctoral degree holder in Social Anthropology and UOC Faculty of the Arts and Humanities professor, agrees with this analysis, stressing that society is capable of reacting against gender, affective and sexual difference, granting it legitimacy and including or outrightly rejecting any forms of relationship that do not correspond to heteronormative patterns, seeing them as a threat to the established order, that of the heteronormative.

According to Enguix, hatred and aggression in relation to difference is motivated by a number of factors but that generally speaking, "it is linked to the protection of traditional gender (and sexual) relationships based on the belief that these relationships form the foundations of traditional values – traditional family, production and reproduction, among others – that are superior to other values." Similarly, traditional and hegemonic masculinity in general "excludes and condemns anything that might undermine the 'traditional gender mandate' and masculine power and privilege," with hegemonic masculinity still defined by what it is not rather than what it really is: a 'real' man cannot be a child, a woman, or an effeminate man.

"The white, heterosexual male – the supposed repository of traditional Western values – and those who share that ideology feel threatened by other forms of sexual-affective expression and respond with rejection and aggression," continued Enguix, adding that although legal and regulatory changes do indeed work towards stamping out LGTB-phobia, it still "undoubtedly persists among us and, for the most part, demonstrates the continued existence of the traditional meanings of masculinity and femininity: we continue to live in heteronormative and sexist contexts, despite the many changes that have taken place."


Reporting to facilitate action

According to the experts, one of the reasons that cyberbullies see social media as a safe space is the fact that most of the attacks launched against the LGBT community on this medium go unreported. The results of a study published in Statista, which aimed to find out how people react to online homophobic attacks, showed that 44% of victims ignore hate messages and 24% block or stop following their harassers, while only 17% respond to comments by confronting attackers.

Josep Maria Tamarit, UOC professor of Criminal Law, explained that, despite the fact that online threats that could be considered an incitement to hatred or discrimination towards a group are public crimes and can be investigated by the police and that some investigations are launched by prosecutors that specialize in hate crimes, this is hampered by the limited number of cases that are reported. "Most victims are reluctant to report crimes for various reasons, including a certain normalization of this kind of incident, a lack of support and a lack of confidence in the institutions. That is why it is important to offer support to hate crime targets." In the professor's opinion, although initiatives have been promoted by the relevant European institutions to prevent platforms from providing opportunities for hate speech on the internet, thereby limiting the risk of viral distribution, these measures do not currently appear to be sufficient to eradicate homophobic attacks on the internet.


Cyberbullying against LGBT adolescents

One of the organizations to have published figures on cyber-homophobia is the Cogam group, which reported that 15% of Madrid's LGBT students have experienced abuse on social media. For experts like Enguix, who is a member of the UOC's MEDUSA - Genders in Transition: Masculinities, Affects, Bodies, and Technoscience research group, this marks a worrying trend: "People have been talking about a resurgence in sexist attitudes among adolescents for some time now." LGTB-phobia and LGTB-phobic attacks are closely linked to bigotry, sexism and the rejection of difference and diversity. There is a clear need for education with regard to diversity, plurality and respect for difference. We have come a long way, but it's still not enough."

Professor Tesconi also stressed the importance of education: "Beyond the correct use of social media, I believe that we need to teach people about empathy and being mindful of becoming intolerant. In all probability we need to make changes in terms of power relations, the way we relate to others, the way we communicate. Language is also a form of technology and we need to be aware of when it becomes a weapon. That is certainly something we could make significant efforts to reflect and act on in the field of education."