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TikTok’s recommendation algorithm is promoting homophobia and anti-trans violence

TikTok’s recommendation algorithm appears to be circulating blatantly anti-LGBTQ videos, some of which encourage targeted violence.

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Graphic via Media Matters

By Olivia Little | TikTok’s recommendation algorithm appears to be circulating blatantly anti-LGBTQ videos, some of which encourage targeted violence. This isn’t the first time TikTok’s opaque algorithm has been caught recommending far-right content, including accounts promoting dangerous movements.

There are no tailored TikTok policies specifically addressing safety for the LGBTQ community. Instead, the platform’s community guidelines relevant to protecting the LGBTQ community are folded into TikTok’s “organized hate” and “hateful behavior” policies barring users from directing hate toward an individual or groups based on their “sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity,” among other characteristics.

LGBTQ rights organization GLAAD analyzed LGBTQ safety on TikTok in its Social Media Safety Index released in May. In its recommendations, it noted that “TikTok must prioritize improved practices and systems to reduce anti-LGBTQ hate and extremist content.”

Anti-LGBTQ content not only slides under TikTok’s radar but seems to be actively promoted by the company’s algorithm.

Let’s be clear: No one knows exactly how TikTok’s “For You” page algorithm is formulated. We have a rough idea, as TikTok has explained that recommendations are based on a number of factors like user interactions, video information, and device settings.

When you open TikTok and land in your For You feed, you’re presented with a stream of videos curated to your interests, making it easy to find content and creators you love. This feed is powered by a recommendation system that delivers content to each user that is likely to be of interest to that particular user.

Does this mean TikTok identifies a user as homophobic and tailors their feed to that interest? It appears so. 

To test this, Media Matters reviewed and tracked which videos TikTok recommended after we liked anti-LGBTQ content that was fed to our “For You” page. After we clicked “like” on one anti-LGBTQ video, TikTok almost instantly began recommending more. As we liked similar videos, the “For You” page became progressively tailored to almost exclusively anti-LGBTQ content. In each case, this content was placed on the “For You” page and required no additional searching. 

Although the content of the videos which TikTok recommended varied, hatred of the LGBTQ community remained a constant underlying theme. Here are some examples: 

Content encouraging violence against LGBTQ people

“Yall need to be ended asap,” wrote one user.

Another user stitched a video of someone claiming they were shoved against a wall and called an anti-gay slur and just laughed at it. (Stitching is a TikTok feature people can use to “clip and integrate scenes from another user’s video into their own.”) 

One user made a video about the “safest countries for LGBTQ,” but listed only those countries where being gay is criminalized. Users in the comments encouraged this, writing that “if you are LGBTQ plz go to one of these places it’s your only hope for a good life” and that “they love you [in Russia] get flags and scream it.” 

Another user encouraged physical violence against trans men, uploading a video of two animated people fighting with the overlaid caption: “Me when I see a Lgbtq Transboy.” Other users hyped up the poster, commenting under the video that it is “top tier content” and that “I did that to someone” in real life.

“Dead trans mfs be like ‘was/were,’” read a tweet in a user video. The video had over 29,900 likes and comments. 

“So that’s 89% of them,” wrote one user in the comments. “Just put that in my bio,” wrote another, with a crying/laughing emoji. “So basically all of them over age 35,” said a different user. 

Content celebrating homophobia

Videos encouraging homophobia or the building of “the biggest straight community” are actively circulating and gaining support on TikTok. “Only homophobic ppl follow me,” read the overlaid text on a TikTok video. Another read, “POV: YOU LIKED BECAUSE YOUR HOMOPHOBIC.”

“Comment ‘I’ if your homophopic,” wrote another user in overlaid text, and in response, users did just that: “I will always be I,” “I was born homophobic and forever will be,” “I.” 

Content encouraging destruction of the pride flag

Videos encouraging users to burn the LGBTQ pride flag are circulating on TikTok, with tens of thousands of likes.

In one video, a man refuses to walk on steps painted with pride colors, with overlaid text reading “me and my followers.” Some of the comments on that video read, “This man is a legend,” “Sorry but I’d spray a black walkway up it for the people who fear god and are not sick in the head,” and “Respect 100.” 

The reality is that even though TikTok claims to prohibit discriminatory and hateful content, explicitly anti-LGBTQ videos are not only flourishing, but being fed directly to users’ “For You” pages by the company’s algorithm. This is not a harmless oversight; this content that has the potential to encourage anti-LGBTQ attacks, an increasing problem in recent years.

Olivia Little is a researcher at Media Matters. She holds a bachelor’s degree in law and public policy from Indiana University. Olivia previously worked as a research associate for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign.

The preceding piece was previously published by MEDIA MATTERS FOR AMERICA and is republished by permission.

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“Just Vote” is not a strategy

The GOP found out long ago that keeping their based terrified and angry was the key to victory: Democrats need to learn to use it as well

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

By Eric Tannehill | FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. – When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, it sent waves of dismay through the LGBT community. Clarence Thomas’ concurrence made it clear that he wants to overturn Obergefell (marriage) and Lawrence v. Texas (sodomy laws).

Already, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has called upon the Supreme Court to overturn Lawrence, and sources tell The Blade that the Alliance Defending Freedom is gearing up challenges to Obergefell in the conservative 5th and 11th Circuits. Even if these challenges fail at the Supreme Court on the first try, the Circuit Courts are likely to issue injunctions that make life miserable for years for LGBT people.

It’s unclear whether the Supreme Court would overturn these rulings. In the Dobbs v. Jackson abortion decision by Alito, he claims that this case is different because it involves human life. On the other hand, the tests for constitutionality created by Alito in Dobbs clearly indicate that Obergefell and Lawrence would fail if brought before him, and should be struck down. Alito very clearly and deliberately left a road map for how to make arguments that ensure these seminal LGBT rights cases are overturned.

The Democratic response to Roe, reassuring the LGBT community, has achieved exactly the opposite: people are terrified and hopeless. Singing “God Bless America,” reading poems, making outraged statements, proposing bills that haven’t a prayer of becoming law, and doing yoga is about all that Democratic leaders have been able to offer the people who put them in office. 

Nancy Pelosi Criticizes ‘Hypocrisy’ Of Supreme Court Overturning Roe v. Wade:

Every proposed solution that might actually work has been shot down. The White House has unilaterally rejected expanding the court or providing abortions on federal land. Manchin and Sinema refuse to budge on the filibuster. No one dares speak about malicious compliance or the legitimacy of a court where most of the justices were put in place by Republicans who lost the popular vote. Meanwhile, Republicans are gleefully planning how they can abuse the system to prosecute women who flee to other states, or people who provide abortifacient drugs by mail.

The singular message Democrats are providing is, “give us money and vote for us, and maybe something good will happen.”

The singular message Democrats are providing is, “give us money and vote for us, and maybe something good will happen.” Vote is not a strategy. Nor is the Democratic base stupid: we know damn well that there is a +7 lean towards the GOP in the Senate, meaning that Democrats must win the national vote by an average of 7 points every year to even have a 50-50 shot of controlling the Senate.

We know that lifetime appointments to the bench mean that the GOP will control SCOTUS for decades. “Just vote” is not a strategy, just like hope is not a plan. But it is patronizing.

This is a complete failure of leadership. Democrats must state explicitly what they will do, and how they will do it, to protect the people voting for them from an increasingly fascist GOP that wants to remake America in its white, Christian, heterosexual image.

We are facing a queer apocalypse, and we’re getting tips on perfecting your “downward dog” and emails begging for money so they can keep doing what they’re doing: which is effectively nothing besides passing legislation that will never see the light of day in the Senate. (The Equality Act, anyone?)

There’s a glimmer of hope: congressional generic ballot polling after the Dobbs v. Jackson decision shows a strong shift towards Democrats, and that the ruling made Democrats much more likely to vote. However, without a clearly enumerated plan and messaging, this is just a blip in our collective short term political memory.

Between now and the election Democratic ads and messaging need to highlight every woman who dies, or nearly so, because of the Dobbs decision. Ads with interviews with women left in screaming bloody agony for hours while a priest and lawyers bicker over whether this is covered by “life of the mother” exceptions.

Women denied lifesaving chemotherapy or forced to carry a pregnancy that could kill them. Women forced to carry a rape to term, and then share custody with their assailant. Make the messaging as brutal as possible: remind voters every day that a vote for Republicans is a vote to torture or kill women.

The GOP found out long ago that keeping their based terrified and angry was the key to victory: Democrats need to learn to use it as well.

The GOP found out long ago that keeping their based terrified and angry was the key to victory

They also need to be explicit in what they are going to do if they somehow manage to retain the House and Senate: namely they will end the filibuster and enshrine Roe v. Wade as federal law.

They need to explicitly spell out how they will use the power given them to prevent SCOTUS from allowing gerrymandered red states from eliminating marriage equality and throwing LGBT people in jail for having consensual sex in the privacy of their own homes. 

Democrats need to stop over-promising and under delivering. The public knows damned well what cannot be accomplished as long as the filibuster is in place, or SCOTUS dominated by conservative ideologues.

The Roberts Court, April 23, 2021 Seated from left to right: Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr. and Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor Standing from left to right: Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh, Elena Kagan, Neil M. Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett.
Photograph by Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

Failing to do these things will produce even worse outcomes: namely people giving up hope of solutions from within the system, ceasing to vote, and attempting to take matters into their own hands out of a sense of hopelessness and rage.

Viable plans create hope. Scared, desperate angry people do stupid things if they do not have both hope and a plan.

It’s President Biden’s responsibility as a leader to map out that plan unambiguously, while Democrats need to make certain everyone knows what the consequences of failure are. 

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Eric Tannehill is a twenty-something queer activist and university student.

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WeHo ignores data on LASD in latest budget proposal

LASD misled city council on its contract & on crime rates, on June 27, the city will discuss rewarding them with a $1 million budget increase

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Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies back down protesters at LA Pride (Sean Carmitchel).

By Nika Soon-Shiong | WEST HOLLYWOOD – West Hollywood’s Public Safety Commission passed a motion to reallocate $3.2 million from the annual sheriff’s contract to much needed social services.

In exchange for recovering two out of 249 stolen phones, the council will discuss a $1,030,000 contract increase to support training for undercover sting operations. Zero cell phones were recovered from dimly lit, noisy nightclubs in the sting operations so far. The $22.15 million LASD contract will soak up one fifth of the city’s budget.  

One out of every five calls to the WeHo sheriff’s department is to address homelessness. An unprecedented campaign to reallocate dollars from LASD to social services has been supported by the 17th president of the NAACP, founder of CalEITC4Me, former mayors, and more.

As one resident shared in the outpour of public comments to the June 6 City Council meeting, “We need less money for cops, and more money for things like mental health, social services, and unarmed security.”The commenter said they’d witnessed armed LASD officers sitting around in their cruiser, not attending to a deceased elderly neighbor’s body and instead waiting for the coroner’s office to handle the situation.

The commenter also said they personally experienced being met with armed LASD officers just to report that their identity had been stolen. “I had to ask two [officers] to come to my unit and stare at my modem,” the commenter said. “All of this is such a waste! There is no reason to send highly paid and trained soldiers to do the type of work that a low-level bureaucrat could do.”

Let’s put the sheriff and social services budgets into perspective with two examples: the cost for an 18 month-guaranteed income pilot for LGBTQ+ residents versus three days of law enforcement at the city’s Pride events. 

WeHo announced a guaranteed income pilot delivering $1,000 per month to elderly LGBTQ+ residents. After a legal debate over the program’s discrimination against straight people, applications will re-open late June. Over a year after the pilot was announced, only 25 people will be selected. 

There was little debate around spending even more than the total guaranteed income payments for the LASD to patrol Pride. As one ACLU SoCal lawyer shared to City Council:

“Pride was, and still is, a protest. Instead, WeHo made Pride into a parade for the sheriff… The department is openly bamboozling you, the city, and other contract cities. We can all see it.”

Other commenters matched this sentiment, reflecting that voters are ready for change:

“Rainbow-wrapped cars do nothing for the community,” said one commenter. “WeHo filled Pride with deputy gangs,” said another.”

LA City controller candidate Kenneth Mejia’s historic lead in the recent primary demonstrates the demand for common-sense budgets backed by clearly communicated and transparent data. So far, Mejia has won almost double the votes of an established, career politician of 35 years, and has nearly the same vote tallies as the leading mayoral candidates, using a platform of financial education.

Sheriff & Protective Services Budgeted for: $22,155,636. Social Services budgeted for $6,5557,492
From 2022-23 West Hollywood Budget Breakdown.

It’s been a year since the city asked the WeHo sheriff to audit the department’s own performance. This summer, the city will spend $500,000 for an external auditing firm to audit the sheriff’s audit. The plan to “audit the audit” starkly reveals the level of trust this department has earned. 

It’s true that WeHo residents are not feeling safe. A community study showed that, in 2013, only 43% of residents felt very safe. A robust sheriff presence was the primary solution offered. Five years later, in 2018, even fewer felt very safe: only 26%.

It’s also true that there is no correlation between the rising costs of the sheriff contract and crime reduction. Who gave us this data? The sheriff’s department itself.  

Let’s remember that reducing the LASD contract does not even imply there will be fewer officers in WeHo. According to the LA County CEO, the LASD hired or promoted 1,900 new employees during the “hiring freeze” and is not prevented from assigning deputies to contract cities.

A group of Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputies stand in a crosswalk in West Hollywood. One of them is holding a bottle of water.
Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Deputies at LA Pride in West Hollywood (Sean Carmitchel).

In Denver, a Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) Program sent mental health clinicians, paramedics, or emergency medical technicians to respond to low-risk calls coming into the 911 system. Most of the 15.6 million calls to the STAR team did not involve a safety concern or weapon.

The program reduced crime by 34%. We can let an alternative emergency response team take similar calls in WeHo, where each single LASD deputy could pay for three social service or mental health workers. For the cost of one officer, we could buy new iPhone 13s for each resident who was pickpocketed, and still have 109 phones left over at City Hall.

The $3.2 million LASD contract reduction could quadruple the number of unarmed Block by Block Security Ambassadors to 110 people. There could be a Block by Block Security Ambassador on every corner of the two square mile city.

Investing taxpayer dollars into the gigantic LASD bureaucracy has never been an effective solution to address homelessness or crime. Direct cash programs reduce crime. Alternative emergency response teams reduce crime. 

Perhaps this doesn’t matter when perception trumps reality. We have a chance to change both and set an example for other contract cities by investing in more effective –– and fiscally responsible –– solutions to public safety. 

There’s an ongoing petition for the city to reallocate $3.2 million from LASD to social services. 

The public has from June 23rd onwards to submit written public comments before the city’s budget is finalized at the June 27th City Council meeting.

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Nika Soon-Shiong is the Public Safety Commissioner for the City of West Hollywood.

Additionally she is the Founder @fund4gi, Director @ComptonPledge, Board Chair @onefairwage and a PhD Candidate @UniofOxford

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The preceding article was previously published by Knock LA and is republished by permission.

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To Biden: No Pride in detention of Transgender, queer communities

Jennicet Gutiérrez declines to attend White House Pride event

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LGBTQ+ immigrant rights activists participate in the Queens Pride parade in Jackson Heights, N.Y., on June 5, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Emilio Vicente)

Editor’s note: This is the letter that Jennicet Gutiérrez sent to the White House in response to the invitation she received to attend its Pride Month celebration.

June 13, 2022

Dear President Biden and Dr. Biden,

I received your invitation to the White House Pride Celebration on June 15, 2022, and with a clear conscience I am letting you know that I will not be attending this event. There should be no White House celebration when Trans and queer communities are suffering and being detained by your administration. There is no pride in detention. 

At the start of your administration you pledged to protect LGBTQ+ people worldwide, but it’s a commitment that you have failed to uphold at home. 

Almost a year ago, while you were holding a Pride reception, Trans and queer immigrant leaders from across the nation marched to the White House, demanding the release of trans people, people living with HIV, and any medical condition, from detention centers across the country. We are still seeking justice for Victoria Arellano, Roxsana Hernández, and Johana Medina, trans women who died because of the negligence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

Our members across the country are marching and protesting this Pride Month with the same demand of ending the violence and killings of Trans people. There have been over two million deportations since you took office, setting you up to be the next deporter-in-chief. Your administration has used Title 42 as an excuse to deport immigrants seeking a better future, most of them Black and brown people and including Trans and queer immigrants, even as your administration is relaxing requirements for people traveling to the United States. More than 32 states have drafted bills that would criminalize trans youth and their families for providing life affirming healthcare. Transgender people and children are under attack by the same white supremacist forces that are plaguing our nation and we haven’t seen your administration’s response be enough in the face of these attacks.

The reality is that as this celebration is taking place, Trans people currently in ICE custody will be in unsafe conditions. You could easily stop their suffering by instructing the Department of Homeland Security to implement a policy of liberating Trans people, people living with HIV and other medical conditions, as well as other vulnerable people.

Ending Trans detention and using your executive powers to protect LGBTQ people would have a greater impact on our community and would save many lives rather than hosting an event to deliver a well-crafted speech with broken promises.

Respectfully,

Jennicet Eva Gutiérrez

13 de julio del 2022

Estimados presidente Biden y Dr. Biden, 

Recibí su invitación a la Celebración del Orgullo de la Casa Blanca el 15 de junio de 2022 y con la conciencia clara les hago saber que no asistiré a este evento. No debería haber celebración de Orgullo en la Casa Blanca cuando las comunidades trans y queer están sufriendo y siendo detenidas por su misma administración. No hay orgullo en la detención. 

Al comienzo de su administración, se comprometió a proteger a las personas LGBTQ + en todo el mundo, pero es un compromiso que no ha podido mantener en casa. 

Hace casi un año, mientras celebraban una recepción de Orgullo, líderes inmigrantes trans y queer de todo el país marcharon a la Casa Blanca, exigiendo la liberación de las personas trans, las personas que viven con el VIH y cualquier condición médica, de los centros de detención de todo el país. Todavía estamos buscando justicia para Victoria Arellano, Roxsana Hernández y Johana Medina, mujeres trans que murieron debido a la negligencia del Servicio de Inmigración y Control de Aduanas (ICE).

Nuestros miembros en todo el país están marchando y protestando este mes del orgullo con la misma demanda de poner fin a la violencia y los asesinatos de personas trans. Ha habido más de dos millones de deportaciones desde que asumió el cargo, lo que lo prepara para ser el próximo jefe-de-deportaciones. Su administración ha utilizado el Título 42 como una excusa para deportar a los inmigrantes que buscan un futuro mejor, la mayoría de ellxs personas Negras y personas de color, e incluyendo a inmigrantes trans y queer, mientras su administración está relajando los requisitos para las personas que viajan a los Estados Unidos. Además, más de treinta y dos estados han redactado proyectos de ley que criminalizan a los jóvenes trans y sus familias por proporcionarles atención médica que afirma su género y salvan sus vidas. Las personas transgénero y los niños están siendo atacados por las mismas fuerzas supremacistas blancas que están plagando nuestra nación y no hemos visto que la respuesta de su administración es suficiente frente a estos ataques.

La realidad es que a medida que se lleva a cabo esta celebración, personas trans actualmente bajo custodia de ICE estarán en condiciones inseguras y peligrosas. Usted podría parar fácilmente su sufrimiento instruyendo al Departamento de Seguridad Nacional para que implemente una política de liberación de personas trans, personas que viven con VIH y otras condiciones médicas, así como otras personas vulnerables. 

Poner fin a la detención trans y usar sus poderes ejecutivos para proteger a las personas LGBTQ tendría un mayor impacto en nuestra comunidad y salvaría muchas vidas en lugar de organizar una celebración de Orgullo para pronunciar un discurso bien elaborado con promesas incumplidas.

Respetuosamente, 

Jennicet Eva Gutiérrez

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