Social Listening Platforms, Q4 2020
Brandwatch and Ditch the Label joined forces to analyze 10 million online posts over a 3½ year period to explore online transphobia.
We uncovered 1.5 million transphobic comments amid the wider conversation around trans people.
Content and trigger warning: Please be aware that in places the data presented in this infographic is uncensored. We recommend getting parental advice before exploring this infographic if you’re younger than 16. This analysis touches on topics including transphobia, racism, mentions of sexual assault, misogyny and misogynoir.
“This report does not make for light reading as it uncovers the shocking and inhumane ways in which transgender people are targeted, harassed, and abused on digital platforms.
The online posts we uncovered, some of which have been shared thousands of times, range in severity from transphobic attitudes through to genocide and violence; you can see these classified on Ditch the Label’s Pyramid of Transphobia. Using the largest dataset of its kind, it is easy to see how, left unchallenged, digital hate speech can and does evolve into acts of physical violence committed towards trans people.
As a cisgender ally to the trans community, I have seen how dangerous online communities can be as echo chambers for self-radicalization. My hope is that this report will bring the problem to the forefront of public conversation, and encourage an urgent review of hate speech guidelines on social platforms and in law.
If you are affected by any of the issues in this report, please know that you aren’t alone and support is available at DitchtheLabel.org
— Liam Hackett, Ditch The Label CEO
Transphobia exists everywhere, and these animations, which contain around 2% of the transphobic data we collected, give a sense of the size of the challenge.
In this report you’ll be able to explore the online conversation around trans topics, to understand what’s going on, where, how, and what it means.
Use the buttons to toggle different map views.
Politics and race were the largest themes found within the transphobic comments, while other topics like gender and religion appear at a lower rate. The data didn’t show major differences between conversations from the US and the UK, although parenting and sports are twice as likely to be associated with transphobia in the UK.
“Unfortunately, these findings don’t surprise me.
As someone who is in the public eye, I experience abuse on a daily basis and I worry that there are people in my community who don’t have the support systems to allow them to access the strength to deal with abusive behaviours. I’ve seen most of the transphobic comments in this report on my timeline, ranging from memes and abuse to actual threats to my safety.
As a trans woman of colour, being subjected to these comments is extremely difficult to navigate. You have to be dead inside to not let it bother you and it’s made even harder when you experience it all the time and the people perpetrating it don’t seem to be sanctioned for their behaviour. I was interested to see the relationship between transphobia and racism and do feel that racist people see transphobia as a tool to legitimize their racism. I’ve had transphobic comments on photos of me mixed in with nazi speech a number of times.
Transphobia is seen as a valid opinion. We never look at racism, sexism or homophobia and say it’s an opinion, so why is transphobia such a ‘free for all’?
It saddens me that the people encouraging abuse are often highly influential within the media and I don’t feel that social media platforms are doing enough to tackle transphobia. It is amazing to see a pyramid of transphobia, this is the first time I’ve ever seen it categorized into different levels that ultimately result in death for members of our community.
— Munroe Bergdorf
Which types of conversations were most likely to be engaged with or shared online, amplifying the message? These network visualizations show social media interactions that included anti-trans language or transphobic slurs across a four month period in the US and UK.
Here, each dot represents an individual, and the lines connecting them indicate a piece of content being shared.
The size of each dot reveals the person’s influence based on followers and impact. The colors of the dots highlight four of the main topics that were amplified.
Michelle Obama was at the epicenter of much of the amplification of transphobic language during the time period we analyzed, with conspiracy theorists suggesting she is trans, and frequently calling her “Mike” or “Michael”.
In 2018, US President Trump began to put into motion a ban on trans military service, and in 2019 the US Supreme Court affirmed it as constitutional. As news surrounding Trump and the Supreme Court continued to unfold in Washington, transphobia unfolded online.
Following their initiative in 2018 to allow young girls to join their Cub Scout program, the Boy Scouts of America announced they were launching a program that would serve pre-teen and teen girls. This led to an amplification of transphobia.
Some trans people have reclaimed slurs commonly used against them. Social media is also used by trans advocates to discourage the use of problematic language. Therefore, several pro-trans posts were among the most amplified uses of slurs and anti-trans language online.
In this network, the lines represent replies or comments, while the colors highlight the main drivers of transphobic engagement.
In our data, the post receiving the most transphobic engagement was from an author listing transphobic slurs and microaggressions. The most common replies then used those slurs against the author.
This pyramid shows transphobic attitudes and behaviors in segments growing in severity from bottom to top. Modelled similarly to the Pyramid of Hate the Pyramid of Transphobia shows how behaviors categorized on the lower tier can support and lead to higher-level ones.
When these attitudes and behaviors are challenged, escalation can be stopped.
SOme text thingers
SOme text thingers
SOme text thingers
Acts of Trans Bias
SOme text thingers
SOme text thingers
Over the three and a half years studied, 1.5 million transphobic mentions were found.
By far the most common transphobic insult found online was ‘tranny’, with over a million mentions of the term between 2015 and 2019. These insults, shared sometimes in their tens of thousands, represent different aspects and levels of ignorance and intolerance. But all can be hurtful and, post by post, they can contribute to a wider atmosphere that is unwelcoming to trans people.
“How much abuse I face will be based on how passable I am.
The sad reality is that these statistics don’t shock me, it’s something I witness everyday. From Google alerts to my social media channels, transphobic abuse online is real. How much abuse I face will be based on how passable I am. My experience navigating the world will be very different from many others in my exact situation. I am a masculine presenting transman, which in today’s society, makes me more safe, palatable, and acceptable.
As a man you must be masculine and as a woman you must be feminine, when as humans, we all have both tendencies. We as trans people are defined by our aesthetics, being passable is such a luxury and not something not every trans person gets to experience.
There have been many points in my life where I’ve felt a level of guilt for being so passable. I know that I will receive less abuse and will be genuinely safer because of my appearance. Being more “cis-passing/presenting” means I fit into the narrative of the binary genders which makes me vaild, and everyone who doesn’t, isn’t.
Hate crimes towards trans people can range from dead-naming, purposefully misgendering, as far as being excluded from services, including health services. The real concern here is that these offenders aren’t being held accountable for their actions. Allowing these individuals to get away with this sort of behavior online is acting as a gateway to the real world.
This report should act as an eye opener. Equality and respect to all humans regardless of how they choose to identify or look needs to be the standard. The issue is not trans people, it’s the way society views trans people.
— Kenny Ethan Jones
Here you can compare the level of transphobic vs constructive conversation across different sites.
Note: ‘Other’ mentions are from sites that don’t fall under the other headings – for example, video sites (beyond YouTube), or review sites.
Larger sites like Twitter and Instagram had the lowest ratio of abuse to general discussion around trans issues, suggesting that people are using these platforms to spark a conversation and educate. That said, it should be noted that the volume of posts on these sites is far larger.
Comment sections on news sites made up a lot of the abuse there, and forums (which often offer anonymity) had a high percentages of abusive language (40%).
But YouTube and sites in the ‘Other’ category (including a lot of video content) had the most abusive commentary. Again, please note that volumes on these sites are much lower than the bigger social networks analyzed.
Comparing conversation between the UK and the US, mentions across most of the site categories were more hostile in the US.
Here’s all three and a half years of transphobic and pro-trans conversation plotted against key events that happened over the course of that timeline.
Some spikes in conversation are reactions to world events, but a large spike in UK transphobic conversation was simply due to an anti-trans joke being shared lots of times. Online conversation can act independently of political context to drive transphobic or pro-trans narratives.
Something else you’ll see is that constructive, pro-trans conversation far outweighs the negative. Transphobic conversation is in the minority, but it’s still very loud and very damaging.
Trans student federal protection withdrawn
The US withdrew guidance dating back to the Obama administration stating federal law requires transgender students to have access to bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identity.
Trump proposes trans military ban
President Trump has banned transgender people from serving in the US army. President Trump announced his intention to roll out this policy back in 2017, citing ‘tremendous medical costs and disruption’.
Trump proposes biological definition of gender
President Trump formally proposed to roll back Obama-era civil rights that safeguard transgender people against healthcare discrimination. Part of this proposed regulation would entail redefining gender identity to match the sex of a person. This echoes a statement put out by the White House in late 2018 reinforcing that gender will solely be based on genitalia at birth, sparking the birth of #WeWillNotBeErased, a hashtag started by transgender people protesting the proposed changes.
Military ban comes into force
The military ban barring transgender people from serving in the US army came into force, citing ‘tremendous medical costs and disruption’.
Brexit itself didn’t create a significant impact on pro and anti-trans conversation. That said, the aftermath of the referendum has seen Brexit appear in conversations on both sides. While some discuss the future of trans equality in an uncertain political climate, others with anti-trans sentiment use #Brexit to illustrate their frustration with the current state of affairs.
‘TERF’s hijack London Pride 2018
London Pride 2018 saw a group of anti-trans protesters make their way to the front of the parade. It was a moment that made waves online, with many voicing their frustration that the protesters were able to spend a long time at the front, drawing attention to their cause.
Gender Recognition Act deadline extended
The Gender Recognition Act (2004) is an act of Parliament the government opened a consultation on to find out how people felt about amending it. This caused an impressive spike amount of online conversation, particularly in October 2018 when Stonewall tweeted about the deadline being extended. The organization encouraged people to #ComeOutForTransEquality by adding their voices.
The rates and nature of bullying behaviors vary from region to region, due to factors like population make-up, access to quality education, and local culture.
In areas colored brighter red, we found higher volumes of transphobia or pro-trans conversation (click below to toggle which data you’re looking at).
Darker areas contained lower volumes of conversation.
Note: We advise caution when interpreting data of this kind. For example, some large areas show as low volume because they are sparsely populated, while the volume of conversations isn't normalized by region population.
Nobody should be subjected to any type of bullying, harassment, or abuse and we’re here for anybody who needs advice and support.
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