Despite callouts from advocates and watchdogs, Meta (Facebook’s parent company) is still approving ads using anti-LGBTQ2S+ “groomer” rhetoric to demonize queer and trans people.
In total, non-profit media watchdog Media Matters for America estimates more than 200 of these “groomer”-related ads have netted the company USD $20,000 since January 2022. And the most recent report found that since October, there were at least 63 new ads on the site that had garnered nearly 1 million impressions and brought in at least $6,400 in revenue.
Alex Paterson, an associate research director at Media Matters, told Xtra that the not-for-profit research centre first saw ads slandering the queer community as pedophiles in January 2022. The organization has been releasing regular reports on the state of anti-LGBTQ2S+ ads on the social media site since September 2022.
Many of the ads are from politicians, and therefore not subject to the same fact-checking policies as other kinds of public posts on the platform—meaning that they can get away with spreading overt misinformation and demonizing marginalized groups with little oversight.
“Meta is prioritizing profits over user safety,” Paterson said. “Meta is sending a clear message, that it would rather allow right-wing politicians to spread hatred on its platforms than to protect queer people.”
Some of the ads Media Matters found recently include: inaccurate claims that schools are “pushing drag shows, Critical Race Theory (CRT) and sexual grooming,” promotion of the anti-LGBTQ troll group Gays Against Groomers and photos of drag performers interacting with children with the text “this is what grooming looks like.”
In July, a spokesperson for Meta confirmed to the Daily Dot that calling LGBTQ2S+ people “groomers” was governed under their policies prohibiting hate speech.
Facebook’s own hate speech guidelines define it as “a direct attack against people” with specific protected characteristics, which include “sexual orientation, sex [and] gender identity.” Attacks are “violent or dehumanizing speech, harmful stereotypes, statements of inferiority, expressions of contempt, disgust or dismissal, cursing and calls for exclusion or segregation.” In addition, the advertisement guidelines note that ads must not claim people or groups “are a threat to the physical safety, health or survival of others” based on protected characteristics.
Harmful “groomer” rhetoric in ads would seem to be hate speech under these guidelines. However, Media Matters found that of over 150 anti-LGBTQ2S+ ads it has previously reported on, only 47 were removed—meaning nearly 70 percent were not taken down, despite seeming to violate the hate speech guidelines.
In its advertising standards, Facebook says it uses “automated and, in some cases, manual review” to monitor ads. But when hate speech is being disseminated in paid ads—and they are not removed—it creates the impression that the platform endorses these ideas, according to Paterson.
In October, research from the Human Rights Campaign found that Meta made between USD $4 and $5 million in ad revenue from ads revenue associated with Matt Walsh’s anti-trans film, What Is a Woman? The vast majority of those ads also violated hate speech guidelines.
“Across the country, legislators are trying to bar trans people from basically existing, and Meta is tacitly endorsing and allowing these terrible efforts to proceed,” Paterson says.
He adds that Facebook ads have also been breeding grounds for other kinds of harmful speech, such as misinformation about abortion pills or conspiracy theory claims that the 2020 U.S. election was “stolen.” Right-wing falsehoods make money, and cause real-world harm, but the platform has not acted in a meaningful way to curtail them, he said.
“It’s clearly a systemic issue, and Meta’s abdication of its responsibilities is really unacceptable,” he says.
Paterson adds that having the community continue to call out this harm is a step that can help raise awareness, and till then highlights the company’s hypocrisy.
“Social media platforms … claim to be allies of the LGBTQ+ community, but then allow our oppressors to push their hatred on their platforms,” he says.