‘The Grooming Agenda’Social Media Companies Accused of Amplifying LGBTIQ Hate
Facebook and Twitter are both failing to deal with hateful allegations that the LGBTIQ community is grooming children, as the far and mainstream right join forces
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Meta and Twitter are accused of failing to clamp down on anti-LGBTIQ hate on their platforms, with Facebook profiting from ads that spread homophobic and transphobic conspiracy theories.
A report by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) and Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has revealed how 59 ads on Facebook that shared the narrative that LGBTIQ people ‘groom’ children were viewed 2.1 million times. Meta, the company which owns Facebook, accepted up to $24,987 for the ads.
Both Facebook and Twitter state that accusing the LGBTIQ community of grooming children is covered by its hate speech policies. However, CCDH researchers found that the 500 most-viewed tweets promoting the false ‘grooming’ narrative were viewed 72 million times and Twitter failed to act on 99% of the 100 most-viewed hateful tweets.
While much of the research was focused on US right-wing and far-right influencers, the UK is not immune from promoting an anti-LGBTIQ ‘groomer’ narrative, with the Reclaim Party sharing conspiracist content that “groomers, trans activists and paedophile enablers been allowed into British classrooms”.
The tweet, written by Reclaim’s Deputy Leader and former Loaded magazine editor Martin Daubney was referring to a report about some admittedly concerning allegations about specific sex education materials, however the materials were not grooming children, enabling paedophilia or related to trans activists.
Loaded was a ‘lads mag’ – a form of media that often featured scantily-clad young models on its covers and which was targeted at young men. It would publish an annual “hot 100” ranking mostly young and famous women by their “hotness”.
“Online hate and lies reflect and reinforce offline violence and hate,” said Imran Ahmed, CEO of CCDH. “The normalisation of anti-LGBTIQ narratives in digital spaces puts LGBTIQ people in danger.
“Now bad actors in the UK are using copycat tactics to bring a US-style ‘culture war’ to the UK to damage British values and cross-party consensus. Their only goal is to gain a political advantage, relevance and greater visibility. Craven hate actors know they can exploit social media algorithms’ hunger for lies, hate and contention.”
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Don’t Say Gay
When it comes to the US, the growth of online hate against LGBTIQ people is fuelled by offline hate, in the shape of homophobic legislation.
The researchers found that the volume of tweets engaging in ‘grooming’ discourse increased by 406% in the month following Florida’s so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans Bill’. The legislation bans discussion of sexuality and has been compared to the UK’s hated Section 28, which prohibited the “promotion” of homosexuality and “fake family relationships” between 1988 and 2003. The bill was passed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
When DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw tweeted that the bill should be described as “anti-grooming” and that those against it are “probably” groomers or at least “don’t denounce the grooming of four-eight year old children”, the phrase “anti-grooming bill” had been tweeted 44,028 times.
This is perhaps one of the most concerning findings: anti-LGBTIQ online hate is no longer the preserve of anonymous trolls or fringe far-right figures. Instead, it is pushed by mainstream political staffers, leading far-right celebrities, and Republican law-makers.
The report found that, on Twitter, the number one driver of ‘groomer’ content was Marjorie Taylor-Greene. The US Republican Congresswoman has been outspoken in her support for former President Donald Trump and once repeated the baseless QAnon conspiracy that claims liberal elites are trafficking children and engaging in Satanic abuse – although she has since distanced herself from the theory.
In March, Taylor-Greene tweeted that anyone who opposed Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ bill is “pro-child predator”. The tweet received an estimated three million views. She also accused the Democrats of being the “party of paedophiles” for their support of LGBTIQ rights and inclusive sex and relationships education.
She’s joined by fellow Congresswoman Lauren Boebert, who had a total reach of 7,000,000 in the top 50 most-viewed hateful tweets. Boebert accuses the “left” of “grooming our kids”.
Meanwhile, far-right actors such as Turning Point USA’s Frank Drew Hernandez and Jack Posobiec have also gotten in on the act – sharing content about LGBTIQ people ‘grooming’ children. Hernandez described Pride month as “grooming month”, while Posobiec stated that anyone against the Don’t Say Gay bill was themselves a ‘groomer’.
Former communications director at Turning Point USA, Candace Owens, has also pushed similar content, this time focusing on allegations that Disney is grooming children.
Owens is married to George Farmer, a prominent Conservative Party donor who has given significant amounts to both the party and the Tory MP Ben Bradley. His father, Sir Michael Farmer, has given more than £10 million to the Conservatives and the Conservative Christian Fellowship, and both father and son were members of the elite Conservative Leaders Group dining club.
The UK Connection
The research published by CCDH and HRC has found that right-wing UK influencers linked to the Reclaim Party – spearheaded by former actor Laurence Fox – have also been spreading hateful disinformation linking the LGBTIQ community to grooming.
Its Deputy Leader Martin Daubney stated that drag queens reading stories in school was a form of “child grooming” and that liberals were “sexualising children”. Daubney also tweeted in support of DeSantis’ Don’t Say Gay bill and promoted a film called ‘Groomed’, about how schools sexualise children.
While Daubney and Fox represent the reactionary hard-right in the UK, more extremist far-right groups have amped up the grooming rhetoric in relation to anti-LGBTIQ hate.
As reported by this newspaper, far-right group Patriotic Alternative has been targeting Drag Queen Storytime events across the country, which they view through the lens of the ‘White Genocide’ conspiracy – the belief that Jewish people are promoting immigration and progressive causes, such as LGBTIQ rights, in the supposed hope of weakening white communities and lowering white birth rates. Its leaders have called Drag Queen Story Hour part of the “grooming agenda”.
The UK far-right has long used a grooming narrative to garner press attention and support. Until recently, this was almost solely focused on Muslim grooming gangs – the far-right response to the horrific crimes perpetrated by chiefly Pakistani men against girls in Rotherham and Rochdale, which often failed to acknowledge similar crimes by white males. The rhetoric here was the need to protect “our” children from a foreign and hostile force.
Further, the QAnon conspiracy has long pushed the baseless notion that we must “Save the Children” from Satanic Ritual Abuse as a way to recruit new followers to its bizarre movement.
While these two issues remain prevalent on the far-right, the attacks on the LGBTIQ community as ‘groomers’ represents a new innovation in how it can whip up fear and hate.
“The need to protect children is, in many ways, primal and it allows the far-right to amp up the moral rhetoric to the point where it can be used to justify any behaviour,” Callum Hood, head researcher at CCDH, told Byline Times.
“For the far-right, it is used to justify threats to violently repatriate the Muslim community or to justify harassing LGBTIQ people. For QAnon, it justifies the need to attack what it perceives to be Satanic influences. For anti-vaxxers, it justifies attacking vaccine centres and healthcare providers.
“That use of protecting children to justify any behaviour is what makes the grooming narrative so useful and so dangerous.”
Crucially, the accusations of grooming fits into a wider far-right ideology that claims the family and patriarchal authority within the family is under threat – and that there can and must be no external influence or interference with the patriarchal family unit.