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Right-leaning Facebook pages 2/3 of interactions about trans issues

Content about trans issues from right-leaning pages is considerably more popular on Facebook than content from left-leaning pages

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Graphic by Andrea Austria for Media Matters

By Brennan Suen | WASHINGTON – Over the past year, right-leaning news and politics Facebook pages have dominated the conversation on the platform around trans issues — earning almost twice as many interactions (reactions, comments, shares) as ideologically nonaligned and left-leaning pages combined. 

Media Matters reviewed all trans-related Facebook posts from news and politics pages between October 2020 and September 2021 and found that right-leaning pages earned 63% of the total interactions on all posts studied — and this number was even higher when reviewing just the most popular posts (those that earned more than 50,000 interactions).

Right-leaning pages posted 77% of those top posts and earned 82% of interactions on them. Additionally, 43% of the most popular posts from all pages were about trans athletes, and they earned 48% of interactions in that set. Posts also often discussed President Joe Biden’s policies, students and schools, state legislation, and health care for trans youth.

This imbalance is part of a years-long pattern in which the right consistently earns the bulk of Facebook engagement when discussing trans issues, often spreading misinformation and bigotry, all while lying that it is being censored by social media companies.

  • Conservative media are using Facebook to help spread anti-trans narratives around health care and student athletes
  • The right’s relentless attacks on trans people are part of a political strategy to inflame “culture war” topics — including trans issues and “critical race theory” — ahead of midterm elections. This dangerous campaign, which is being waged through conservative news outlets and on social media, has created an environment in which educators and school officials are now being threatened for passing pro-LGBTQ policies or working to advance racial equity in schools, placing kids, families, and educators at risk.
  • During this same time period, a record number of states have introduced and passed legislation targeting the trans community, particularly trans youth, by restricting their access to lifesaving health care and their ability to participate in school sports teams that align with their gender identity. These topics have also been common obsessions on Fox News, which aired 54 segments mentioning trans athletes and 15 mentioning health care for trans people in less than two months after President Joe Biden took office.
  • The spread of bigoted content and misinformation on Facebook has been a key component of the right’s efforts to promote these bills. And the measures address problems that don’t actually exist — trans athletes are not dominating girls and women’s sports, for instance, and trans children are not undergoing surgery. Yet posts from right-leaning pages about both topics thrive on Facebook; our review found that 43% of posts about trans issues that earned at least 50,000 interactions were about trans athletes, and 11% were about health care for trans youth.
  • Key findings
    • From October 2020 through September 2021, right-leaning Facebook pages related to news and politics posted about trans issues more often, earned more total interactions, and earned more average interactions than either nonaligned or left-leaning pages.
      • Right-leaning Facebook pages earned 60.1 million interactions (63%) across more than 16,000 posts.
      • Ideologically nonaligned pages earned 18.6 million interactions (20%) across more than 12,000 posts.
      • Left-leaning pages earned 16.1 million interactions (17%) across nearly 6,000 posts.
    • Media Matters identified 235 posts about trans issues that earned at least 50,000 interactions apiece to analyze which topics were most common among top content.
      • We found that right-leaning pages accounted for 39 out of the top 40 posts.
      • Right-leaning pages accounted for 77% of the top 235 posts and 82% of the 26.5 million total interactions earned on these top posts.
      • Of those 235 top posts, 101 (43%) were about trans athletes, earning 12.8 million interactions (48%). Additionally, 58 of the posts were about state legislation (25%), with Florida (20) and Arkansas (11) the most common states discussed. These posts earned 8.7 million interactions — one-third of the total for all posts with more than 50,000 interactions. 
      • Other topics frequently mentioned in the top posts were students and schools, including pronoun and bathroom use, health care for trans youth, Biden’s policies, Assistant Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, and the Equality Act.
    • The top 8 news and politics pages earning the most Facebook interactions on trans-related posts were all right-leaning.
      • The top page was Ben Shapiro’s, which earned 11.7 million interactions on its related posts. Other top pages included those for Franklin Graham, Breitbart, Fox News, and Dan Bongino. 
      • CNN and NPR, the only ideologically nonaligned outlets in the top 10 pages, earned 1.3 and 1.2 million interactions, respectively.
      • Right-wing media outlet The Daily Wire was the most frequently shared domain in trans-related posts, with 3,204 posts linking to the outlet and earning over 13.6 million interactions. The Daily Wire’s network of Facebook pages helped amplify the domain.
  • Right-leaning pages posting about trans issues earned nearly twice the interactions of ideologically nonaligned and left-leaning pages combined
  • Facebook interactions on all trans-related posts by page ideology
  • Right-leaning Facebook pages related to news and politics posted about trans issues more often, earned more total interactions, and earned more average interactions than either nonaligned or left-leaning pages. Right-leaning pages earned 60.1 million interactions on trans-related posts, or 63% of all interactions, while nonaligned pages earned 18.6 million interactions (20%) and left-leaning pages earned 16.1 million interactions (17%). This means that posts on right-leaning pages earned nearly twice as many interactions as nonaligned and left-leaning pages combined.
  • Number of Facebook posts about trans issues by page ideology
  • Right-leaning Facebook pages made more than 16,000 posts about trans issues, compared to over 12,000 from nonaligned pages and nearly 6,000 from left-leaning pages. All in all, right-leaning pages made 47% of Facebook posts about trans issues but earned nearly two-thirds of all interactions.
  • On average, posts about trans issues on right-leaning pages earned roughly 3,700 interactions each; posts on nonaligned pages earned over 1,500 interactions each; and posts on left-leaning pages earned about 2,700 interactions each.
  • Right-leaning pages made 77% of the Facebook posts about trans issues that earned at least 50,000 interactions, and trans athletes were the most popular topic
  • Interactions on trans-related posts earning at least 50,000 interactions by page ideology
  • Media Matters compiled all Facebook posts about trans issues that earned 50,000 interactions or more and found 235, which earned 26.5 million combined interactions. Right-leaning pages posted 180 (77%) of those posts and earned 28.1 million interactions (82%) on them — meaning they were even more overrepresented among top-performing content than among the total examined posts. In fact, content from right-leaning pages made up 39 of the top 40 posts overall
  • Trans-related posts earning at least 50,000 interactions by page ideology
  • Ideologically nonaligned pages made 17 (7%) of the posts, earning 1.4 million interactions (5%), and left-leaning pages made 38 (16%) of the posts and earned 3.4 million interactions (13%). 

Of the top 235 posts relating to trans issues, 101 (43%) were about trans athletes, earning 12.8 million interactions (48%); 28 (12%) were about students and schools, including posts about pronoun and bathroom use but excluding those exclusively about trans athletes (which are counted in the trans-athletes category), earning 3.6 million interactions (14%); and 25 (11%) were about health care for trans people, earning 3.3 million interactions (12%).

Additionally, 58 of the top posts were about state legislation, earning 8.6 million interactions (33%). Legislation in Florida (20) and Arkansas (11) were most commonly discussed.

There were 39 posts about Biden policies, earning 4.4 million interactions (17%); 17 posts about Assistant Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, earning 1.2 million interactions (5%); and 7 posts about the Equality Act, earning 1 million interactions (4%).

Right-leaning pages made up the top eight pages by interactions, and The Daily Wire was the most shared domain

The top eight news and politics-related Facebook pages earning the most interactions on all trans-related posts were all right-leaning pages, with Ben Shapiro earning the most interactions (11.7 million) and Franklin Graham earning the second most interactions (6.4 million). The ninth and tenth pages earning the most interactions were ideologically nonaligned outlets CNN (1.3 million interactions) and NPR (1.2 million interactions).The following are the top 10 pages by interactions:

Ben Shapiro, 11.7 million interactions.

Franklin Graham, 6.4 million interactions.

Breitbart, 3.7 million interactions.

Fox News, 2.5 million interactions.

Dan Bongino, 2 million interactions.

Michael Knowles, 1.7 million interactions.

Glenn Beck, 1.3 million interactions.

The Western Journal, 1.3 million interactions.

CNN, 1.3 million interactions.

NPR, 1.2 million interactions.Though the official page for The Daily Wire was 12th in our rankings, its content was the most linked to in trans-related posts. In fact, the outlet was linked to in 3,204 Facebook posts, which earned 13.6 million interactions, and its spread was aided by the pages for Daily Wire personalities Ben Shapiro, Michael Knowles, Matt Walsh, and Andrew Klavan — all of which are part of the Daily Wire’s large network of coordinated Facebook pages that amplify its content. The network’s other pages, including Donald Trump is My President, Restless Patriot, Conservative News, and The Angry Patriot, also shared the outlet’s articles.

Once again, Facebook has proved to be an unsafe place for LGBTQ people

This is not the first time that Media Matters has found that content about trans issues from right-leaning pages is considerably more popular on Facebook than content from ideologically nonaligned or left-leaning pages. In 2020, we did a study of published online content shared on the platform — as opposed to posts — and found similar results:

We looked at 225 pieces of high-performing content on trans topics — articles, blog posts, videos — which earned a combined total of nearly 66 million interactions on Facebook. Content about trans people and related topics from right-leaning sources constituted 65.7% of those interactions. Comparatively, 15.4% of all interactions were earned by content from queer sources, 3.9% from left-leaning sources, 10.4% from nonaligned sources, and 4.6% from “other” sources.

Despite this pattern, conservatives have long lied that Facebook is biased against them, even though their posts have consistently earned more interactions than those of ideologically nonaligned and left-leaning pages on topics such as immigration, so-called “critical race theory,” and Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing, to name a few.

Earlier this year, GLAAD released its Social Media Safety Index, “the first-ever baseline evaluation of the LGBTQ user safety experience across the social media landscape.” One of its most urgent recommendations was for platforms to “stop allowing algorithms to fuel extremism and hate” and “confront the problem of bias in AI which disproportionately impacts LGBTQ people and other marginalized communities.” GLAAD notes that “currently, social media algorithms tend to push people further into silos of experience, sending them ever deeper into echo chambers” that can amplify hateful content — “a phenomenon that is well-documented by both researchers and journalists.”

Our latest findings only further demonstrate this pattern and reinforce the need for Facebook to take action against the intense spread of transphobia on its platform.

Methodology

Media Matters searched Facebook posts using CrowdTangle from 1,773 Facebook pages that frequently posted about U.S. politics from October 1, 2020, through September 30, 2021.Of those 1,773 pages, we identified 771 right-leaning pages, 497 ideologically nonaligned pages, and 505 left-leaning pages. For an explanation of how we compiled the pages and identified them as right-leaning, left-leaning, or ideologically nonaligned, see the methodology here.

We then compiled all posts from these 1,773 Facebook pages that we determined to be about trans issues.

We defined posts as being related to or about trans issues if a post had any of the following terms in the message, the included link, article headline, or article description: “trans kid,” “trans kids,” “trans child,” “trans children,” “trans boy,” “trans boys,” “trans girl,” “trans girls,” “trans man,” “trans men,” “trans woman,” “trans women,” “trans female,” “trans male,” “transgender,” “transgenders,” “transgenderism,” “gender transition,” “gender identity,” “biological male,” “biological man,” “biological woman,” “biological boy,” “biological girl,” “biological female,” “women’s sports,” “girls’ sports,” “biological women,” “biological men,” “puberty blockers,” “chemical castration,” “irreversible procedures,” “irreversible surgery,” “irreversible surgeries,” “detransition,” “detransitioner,” “gender reassignment,” “hormone replacement,” “sex change,” “sex reassignment.”

We then reviewed the total interactions — reactions, comments, and shares — for the resulting 34,139 posts.

For each post with over 50,000 interactions, the subject of the post was independently coded by two researchers. When there was a discrepancy, the researchers assigned a final code by consensus. We removed one unrelated post, bringing the total to 235 posts with more than 50,000 interactions included in the final analysis. These posts were coded for whether the posts mentioned one or more of the following topics in their text, image, or headline: trans athletes; Biden policies; the Equality Act; health care for trans people or youth; Dr. Rachel Levine; legislation in the states (and which states); or students or schools, including posts about pronoun use and bathrooms but not including posts that discussed only trans athletes in schools.

*********************

Brennan Suen is the LGBTQ program director at Media Matters, where he has worked since July 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University, and he formerly interned at the Human Rights Campaign and SKDKnickerbocker.

The preceding article was previously published by Media Matters for America and is republished by permission.

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Research/Study

New study on resilience & mental health among LGBTQ youth

LGBTQ youth with high resilience had 59% lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt- 69% lower odds of considering suicide in the past year

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

NEW YORK – The Trevor Project observing the 53rd anniversary of the riots at the Stonewall Inn that sparked a greater movement for LGBTQ+ rights and equality this week, released new data that examines resilience and mental health among LGBTQ youth.

“As we celebrate Pride Month and commemorate the Stonewall Riots, there is often discussion of the ‘resilience’ of the LGBTQ community and the ways in which members are able to bounce back in the face of adversity. These data highlight the fact that resilience is not just an admirable quality – but one that can be associated with improved mental health among LGBTQ youth,” said Dr. Jonah DeChants, Research Scientist at The Trevor Project.

“Higher resilience in our sample was consistently associated with better mental health outcomes including decreased risk for anxiety, depression, and suicide attempts in the past year among LGBTQ youth. Moving forward, we should invest further research into understanding how LGBTQ youth can successfully develop high resilience. Additionally, we should work to dismantle systems of oppression and implement LGBTQ-inclusive anti-discrimination protections  so that LGBTQ youth are not required to possess resilience to excel and thrive.” 

Key Findings:

  • LGBTQ youth with high resilience had 59% lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt, and 69% lower odds of considering suicide in the past year, compared to LGBTQ youth with low resilience. 
  • LGBTQ youth with high resilience reported 81% lower odds  of anxiety symptoms, compared to LGBTQ youth with low resilience. 
  • LGBTQ youth with  high resilience reported 79% lower odds of recent depression, compared to LGBTQ youth with low resilience. 
  • LGBTQ youth who have supportive families and  are in supportive environments have higher resilience.
  • LGBTQ youth ages 18 to 24 reported significantly higher resilience than LGBTQ youth ages 13 to 17. 

Read the report:

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Research/Study

150 people on Tennessee’s sex offender registry for HIV-related conviction

Nearly one-half of HIV registrants on the SOR were women and over three-quarters of HIV registrants were Black

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

LOS ANGELES – At least 154 people have been placed on Tennessee’s sex offender registry (SOR) for an HIV-related conviction since 1993, according to a new report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.

Enforcement of HIV crimes in Tennessee disproportionately affects women and Black people. Nearly one-half of HIV registrants on the SOR were women and over three-quarters of HIV registrants were Black.

Tennessee’s two primary HIV criminalization laws—aggravated prostitution and criminal exposure—make it a felony for people living with HIV to engage in sex work or other activities, such as intimate contact, blood donation, or needle exchange, without disclosing their status. Both are considered a “violent sexual offense” and require a person convicted to register as a sex offender for life.

Examining Tennessee’s sex offender registry, researchers found that Shelby County, home to Memphis, accounts for most of the state’s HIV convictions. Shelby County makes up only 13% of Tennessee’s population and 37% of the population of people living with HIV in the state, but 64% of HIV registrants on the SOR. Moreover, while Black Tennesseans were only 17% of the state’s population and 56% of people living with HIV in the state, 75% of all HIV registrants were Black.

In Shelby County, 91% of aggravated prostitution convictions resulted from police sting operations in which no physical contact ever occurred. In addition, the case files showed that 75% of those convicted were Black women. When it came to criminal exposure case files, all of those convicted except one person were Black men.

“Tennessee’s HIV criminal laws were enacted at a time when little was known about HIV and before modern medical advances were available to treat and prevent HIV,” said lead author Nathan Cisneros, HIV Criminalization Analyst at the Williams Institute. “Tennessee’s outdated laws do not require actual transmission or the intent to transmit HIV. Moreover, the laws ignore whether the person living with HIV is in treatment and virally suppressed and therefore cannot transmit HIV.”

KEY FINDINGS

  • Incarcerating people for HIV-related offenses has cost Tennessee at least $3.8 million.
  • Of the 154 people who have been placed on Tennessee’s SOR for an HIV-related conviction, 51% were convicted of aggravated prostitution, 46% were convicted of criminal exposure, and 3% were convicted of both.
  • Women account for 26% of people living with HIV in Tennessee and 4% of people on the SOR, but 46% of the SOR’s HIV registrants.
  • Black people account for 17% of people living in Tennessee, 56% of those living with HIV, 27% of people on the SOR, but 75% of the SOR’s HIV registrants.
  • Black women were the majority of aggravated prostitution registrants (57%), while Black men were the majority of criminal exposure registrants (64%).
  • People with an HIV-related offense are more economically vulnerable when compared to others on the state’s SOR.
    • One in five (19%) HIV registrants were homeless compared to 9% of all SOR registrants.
    • 28% of HIV registrants reported an employer address compared to about half (49%) of all SOR registrants.
  • Shelby County has one aggravated prostitution conviction for every 115 people living with HIV in the county, and Black people were 90% of all people convicted for aggravated prostitution.
    • Over 90% of aggravated prostitution convictions in Shelby County were the result of police sting operations.
    • Only 3% of aggravated prostitution convictions in Shelby County alleged any intimate contact.
    • Nearly all (95%) people arrested in Shelby County for criminal exposure were Black men, compared to 64% of people statewide.  

The Williams Institute has conducted research on HIV criminalization in numerous U.S. states.

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Research/Study

New Pew Research Center poll: Americans at odds over Trans issues 

Strong majorities favor non-discrimination protections but weaker support for access to transition-related care among minors

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Texas trans activist Landon Richie speaking at Texas Capitol against trans youth sports bill (Los Angeles Blade file photo)

WASHINGTON – A new survey from a leading non-partisan research center reveals Americans have mixed views on transgender issues at a time when states are moving forward with measures against transgender youth, with strong majorities favoring non-discrimination protections but weaker support for access to transition-related care among minors and participation in school sports.

The Pew Research Center issued the findings on Tuesday as part of the results of its ongoing study to better understand Americans’ views about gender identity and people who are transgender or non-binary. The findings are based on a survey of 10,188 U.S. adults from data collected as part of a larger survey conducted May 16-22.

A majority of respondents by wide margins favor non-discrimination protections for transgender people. A full 64 percent back laws or policies that would protect transgender people from discrimination in jobs, housing, and public spaces, while roughly 8-in-10 acknowledge transgender people face at least some discrimination in our society.

Additionally, nearly one half of Americans say it’s extremely important to use a transgender person’s new name after they undergo a transition, while an additional 22 percent say that is somewhat important. A smaller percentage, 34 percent, say using a transgender person’s pronouns is extremely important, and 21 percent say it is somewhat important.

But other findings were less supportive:

  • 60 percent say a person’s gender is determined by sex assigned at birth, reflecting an increase from 56 percent in 2021 and 54 percent in 2017, compared to 38 percent who say gender can be different from sex assigned at birth.
  • 54 percent say society has either gone too far or been about right in terms of acceptance, underscoring an ambivalence around transgender issues even among those who see at least some discrimination against transgender people.
  • About six-in-ten adults, or 58 precent, favor proposals that would require transgender athletes to compete on teams that match the sex they were assigned at birth as opposed to teams consistent with their gender identity, compared to 17 percent who oppose that and 24 percent neither favor nor oppose it.
  • 46 percent favor making it illegal for health care professionals to provide transition-related care, such as hormones or gender reassignment surgery, to someone younger than 18, compared to 31 percent who oppose it.
  • Americans are more evenly split when it comes to making it illegal for public school districts to teach about gender identity in elementary schools (which is favored by 41 percent, and opposed by 38 percent) and investigating parents for child abuse if they help someone younger than 18 obtain transition-related care (37 percent are in favor and 36 percent oppose it).

Young adults took the lead in terms of supporting change and acceptance. Half of adults ages 18 to 29 say someone can be a man or a woman even if that differs from the sex they were assigned at birth, compared to about four-in-10 of those ages 30 to 49 and about one-third of respondents 50 and older.

Predictably, stark differences could be found along party lines. Democrats by 59 precent say society hasn’t gone far enough in accepting people who are transgender, while 15 percent say it has gone too far and 24 percent say it’s been about right. For Republicans, 10 percent say society hasn’t gone far enough, while 66 percent say it’s gone too far and 22 percent say it’s been about right.

Read the full report here.

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