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Twitter “Libs of TikTok” amplified anti-LGBTQ hate; attacks exploding online

Since March 1, millions of Facebook posts and tweets have pushed similar anti-LGBTQ hate and earned millions of interactions

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Graphic by Andrea Austria for Media Matters

By Kayla Gogarty | WASHINGTON – Through their coverage and on social media, right-wing media have ramped up attacks accusing LGBTQ people and opponents of Florida’s latest anti-LGBTQ legislation of “grooming” children.

In a new study, Media Matters analyzed millions of Facebook and Twitter posts that push related anti-LGBTQ language and found this narrative initially spiked in March with anti-LGBTQ Twitter account “Libs of TikTok” at the helm, and the attacks further ramped up in April as right-wing outlets and figures with large followings further amplified the language. 

Key findings include:

  • News and politics Facebook pages posted at least 1,100 times mentioning “groomer,” “grooming,” or other related language between March 1 and April 18. These posts earned over 1.7 million interactions.
  • Right-leaning pages dominated “groomer”-related discussion on Facebook, posting over 78% of related posts — a majority of which were posted in April.
  • There were over 1.4 million tweets and retweets with “groomer”-related language between March 1 and April 18. Related hashtags, including #grooming, #groomer, #groomers, and #savethechildren, were used nearly 30,000 times.
  • Anti-LGBTQ account Libs of TikTok influenced “groomer”-related discussion on Facebook and Twitter.
    • In March, the most-retweeted and most-mentioned Twitter account using “groomer” language was anti-LGBTQ account Libs of TikTok. Its tweets with “groomer”-related language were retweeted over 14,600 times, and the account was mentioned in over 17,800 tweets with similar language. 
    • Libs of TikTok has continued to tweet “groomer”-related language in April; the account has been mentioned in over 21,000 related tweets and has been retweeted over 13,000 times.
  • In April, the most-retweeted and most-mentioned Twitter account so far in related tweets was conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec, whose tweets with anti-LGBTQ language were retweeted over 68,000 times, and whose account was mentioned in nearly 79,000 tweets with similar language. 
  • On Twitter, the number of tweets with “groomer”-related language increased by over 60% in April, with over 870,000 tweets and retweets, compared to nearly 545,000 tweets in March. 

On March 28, Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, into law. This anti-LGBTQ legislation bans discussion of sexuality or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, though its vague wording could be used to prevent such discussions — however broadly defined — at any grade level.

Following DeSantis’ signature and Disney’s announcement that it opposed the bill, right-wing media ramped up attacks through their coverage and on social media, accusing LGBTQ people and opponents of the bill of “grooming.”

In the week after the bill was signed, Fox News spent over 3 hours melting down about Disney’s response and the attacks on LGBTQ people were echoed and amplified on Facebook, with right-leaning pages earning over 6.5 million interactions on related posts during the same time frame.

The attacks echoed messaging advice from DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw, who described the legislation as an “Anti-Grooming Bill” after repeatedly interacting with Libs of TikTok — an anti-LGBTQ Twitter account that she claims “truly opened my eyes” on LGBTQ education in schools. The account has frequently singled out individual TikTok users, including teachers, for ridicule and harassment, while also repeatedly misgendering public figures and content creators and using “groomer”-related language in dozens of tweets.

Throughout March and April, Libs of TikTok also influenced Fox News prime-time coverage, as the network used the account like a wire service to source anti-trans and homophobic content related to teachers and youth and interviewed the then-anonymous account owner. Now, Media Matters has found that Libs of TikTok also influenced related discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

Since March 1, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts have mentioned “groomer”-related language millions of times and earned millions of interactions

Using Facebook data from CrowdTangle and Twitter data from the Dewey Square Group (sourced via the Twitter API), Media Matters found that news and politics Facebook pages posted at least 1,100 times mentioning “groomer,” “grooming,” or other related language between March 1 and April 18, earning over 1.7 million interactions. During the same time frame, Twitter accounts tweeted (or retweeted) at least 1.4 million times with similar language.

Right-leaning Facebook pages have dominated “groomer”-related discussion, posting 868 times — or over 78% of related posts from news and politics pages — and earning over 90% of interactions. Posts from right-leaning pages also account for 46 of the top 50 posts with such language in our data. Notably, several of the top 10 related posts were made by right-wing personalities and accuse the left, Disney, or teachers of “grooming” children:

On Twitter, right-wing media figures also posted several of the top 10 related tweets (by number of retweets), including Jack Posobiec, as well as The Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles and Candace Owens:

  • During the same time frame, related hashtags on Twitter, including #grooming, #groomer, #groomers, and #savethechildren, were used nearly 30,000 times.
  • Libs of TikTok was the most-retweeted and most-mentioned user in tweets with “groomer”-related language in March
  • Media Matters previously reported that anti-LGBTQ Twitter account Libs of TikTok had specifically used “groomer”-related language in 46 tweets since November 2021, with the tweets earning over ​​220,000 total interactions (replies, retweets, likes, and quote tweets). Using new Twitter data from the Dewey Square Group, sourced via the Twitter API, Media Matters has now found that the Libs of TikTok account earned at least 14,600 retweets in March alone on tweets that used the related anti-LGBTQ language — making it the account with the most retweets of tweets containing such language. Libs of TikTok’s most retweeted March tweets containing this specific anti-LGBTQ language are one claiming Illinois education standards are “literal grooming” and one accusing the husband of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg of “grooming kids.” These tweets earned roughly 2,500 retweets each.
  • Libs of TikTok was also the most mentioned user in tweets with “groomer”-related language, mentioned at least 17,800 times in March. Verified users with tens of thousands of followers responded to the account’s tweets and increased the account’s visibility, including Chris Rufo, a primary driver of right-wing fearmongering over “critical race theory.”Libs of TikTok continued to tweet “groomer”-related language in April, with related tweets retweeted nearly 14,000 times, and the account mentioned in over 21,000 related tweets. But as right-wing media echoed similar language, the anti-LGBTQ attacks exploded across Facebook and Twitter.
  • So far in April, right-wing media outlets and figures have earned more engagement on Facebook posts and tweets with “groomer”-related language than in March
  • Right-leaning Facebook pages mentioned “groomer”-related language in at least 868 posts between March 1 and April 18. The majority of these posts — nearly 600 — were made in April, earning nearly 1.2 million interactions or an average of over 2,000 interactions per post. This engagement far surpassed the interactions these pages earned on its related posts in March — roughly 1,300 average interactions per post. 

The 10 news and politics pages that earned the most interactions on posts with related language in April so far are all right-leaning pages, mostly of right-wing outlets and personalities:

  • Fox News: 3 posts that earned a total of over 260,000 interactions.
  • Michael Knowles: 9 posts that earned a total of nearly 70,000 interactions.
  • Chicks On The Right: 18 posts that earned a total of nearly 60,000 interactions.
  • Young Conservatives: 15 posts that earned a total of over 55,000 interactions.
  • Mark Dice: 1 post that earned a total of over 50,000 interactions.
  • Trump & The Great America: 15 posts that earned a total of nearly 50,000 interactions.
  • Ben Ferguson: 2 posts that earned a total of nearly 50,000 interactions.
  • Trump 2020: 15 posts that earned a total of over 45,000 interactions. 
  • Steven Crowder: 13 posts that earned a total of over 40,000 interactions.
  • Dan Bongino: 4 posts that earned a total of over 40,000 interactions.

On Twitter, tweets with “groomer”-related language have increased by over 60% in April, with over 870,000 tweets and retweets, compared to nearly 545,000 tweets in March. Notably, the most retweeted and most mentioned user in April so far is pro-Trump conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec. Posobiec’s tweets with anti-LGBTQ language were retweeted over 68,000 times and he was mentioned in nearly 79,000 tweets with similar language. 

One of Posobiec’s tweets was even among the top 10 related tweets in April that had the most retweets.

  • Other top users in terms of retweets or mentions in related posts in April include:
    • The Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles: over 26,000 retweets and nearly 27,000 mentions.
    • Chris Rufo: over 25,000 retweets and over 26,000 mentions.
    • The Daily Wire’s Candace Owens: over 18,000 retweets and over 18,000 mentions.

Facebook analysis

Using CrowdTangle, Media Matters compiled a list of 1,773 Facebook pages that frequently posted about U.S. politics from January 1 to August 25, 2020.

For an explanation of how we compiled pages and identified them as right-leaning, left-leaning, or ideologically nonaligned, see the methodology here.

The resulting list consisted of 771 right-leaning pages, 497 ideologically nonaligned pages, and 505 left-leaning pages.

Every day, Media Matters also uses Facebook’s CrowdTangle tool and this methodology to identify and share the 10 posts with the most interactions from top political and news-related Facebook pages.

Using CrowdTangle, Media Matters compiled all posts for the pages on this list that were posted from March 1 through April 18, and were related to the myth that LGBTQ people are “grooming” children to be LGBTQ or to engage in sexual activity. We reviewed data for these posts, including total interactions (reactions, comments, and shares). 

We defined posts as related to the myth that LGBTQ people are “grooming” children if they had any of the following terms in the message or in the included link, article headline, or article description: “groomer,” “anti-groomer,” “grooming,” “groomers.”

We excluded any posts related to human or pet hygiene.

Twitter analysis

Dewey Square Group compiled and analyzed tweets containing “groomer”-related keywords, via the Twitter API. We reviewed data for these tweets, including total interactions (replies, retweets, likes, and quote tweets), total retweets, and total mentions (when a user replied to an account, tagged it in a tweet, or replied to another tweet which had tagged that account). “Groomer”-related keywords were defined as any of the following: “groomer,” “groomers,” or “grooming.”

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Kayla Gogarty is an Associate Research Director at Media Matters focusing on disinformation.

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

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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.

Read the report

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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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Research/Study

A Moms for Liberty leader threatens gun violence against librarians (Audio)

“[…] making librarians who make 85k a year answer to parents when we ask how sexually explicit books got into the library”

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Graphic by Andrea Austria for Media Matters

By Olivia Little | WASHINGTON – Leaked audio from a Moms for Liberty meeting in Lonoke County, Arkansas, reveals a member of the chapter’s leadership flippantly threatening gun violence against librarians. 

In the audio obtained by Media Matters, the chapter’s head of communications and media, Melissa “Missy” Bosch, complained about librarians in the district, saying, “I’m telling you, if I was — any mental issues, they would all be plowed down with a freaking gun by now.”

Bosch is an Arkansas-based anti-mask activist who has since redirected that energy to her new charter school and the Moms for Liberty “parental rights” campaign that advocates for the banning of books across the country and strategically harasses school officials. 

She was made aware of the recorded audio and took to Facebook falsely claiming it was “illegally recorded” and “illegally spliced.” It wasn’t — Arkansas is a one-party consent state and Media Matters has reviewed the original recording in full. 

Bosch also threatened legal action in her post, claiming to know “some fantastic lawyers,” and she said her comments came while she was talking about “making librarians who make 85k a year answer to parents when we ask how sexually explicit books got into the library.” Bosch — along with other Moms for Liberty members — advocates for banning “pornographic books” to protect children, parroting a line right-wing media often use to target books about race and LGBTQ identity.

Yet Bosch’s hypocrisy is clearly evident since she rationalizes book bans to “protect” children while also hiring a lawyer who also represented a high-profile child sex offender. Travis Story, who represented Bosch in 2021 in a lawsuit against school mask mandates, simultaneously represented former TLC star and reported “longtime friend” Josh Duggar, who has since been convicted of “receiving and possessing child sexual abuse material.” 

As right-wing media and organizations push false and misleading claims about education policies, there has been an uptick in violence against school employees across the United States. Moms for Liberty members have also previously threatened school officials, and this incident is symptomatic of the group’s toxic campaign as a whole.

Editor’s Note: Moms for Liberty, a nonprofit claiming to advocate for “parental rights,” appears to be using parents as pawns to advance a far-right agenda.  Read more here: (LINK)

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

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