** More coverage at The Washington Blade.
In a major move that could reduce the spread of harmful “ex-gay” propaganda, Instagram and Facebook pledged to ban any content that promotes conversion therapy. According to CNN, Facebook said it would expand its existing policies on hate speech worldwide to include posts that advertise or promote the practice, in a move that applies to both platforms.
“We don’t allow attacks against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity and are updating our policies to ban the promotion of conversion therapy services,” Tara Hopkins, Instagram’s public policy director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said in a statement.
The platform will also stop recommending content related to conversion therapy, such as testimonials to its efficacy or posts in praise of or in support of the practice, except those in a legislative context. Earlier this year, Instagram banned advertisements for the process.
A Twitter spokesperson said their platform already enforces against content that promotes conversion therapy under their wishes of harm rule, and is “working to make the training decks more clear so that team members have a wide variety of examples to refer to and our enforcement of this is consistent and scaleable globally.” (Yet, it’s not difficult to find the promotion of “ex-gay” lies on Twitter)
There are key questions that remain to the full impact of this decision. Does the term “conversion therapy” apply to just the psychological practice? If so, the reach of the new rule is minimal, as true conversion therapy is probably 5 or 10-percent of all “ex-gay” efforts. Or, does the ban apply more broadly to Christian ministries that constitute the vast majority of the abuse?
Born Perfect, which worked with Facebook on this initiative, seems to think the new rules are more expansive, which would be extraordinary. In a press release the group writes, “Now the official restriction applies to all content, not just ads.” According to Born Perfect co-founder Mathew Shurka.
“We consulted with Facebook’s team directly on creating an algorithm to help detect advertising by conversion therapists and delete those advertisements.”
Another important question is whether “ex-gay” organizations and ministers will continue to be able to keep their Facebook pages, which are deep wells of “ex-gay” hate propaganda? As of today, the answer is nebulous. A quick look shows that Restored Hope Network, Desert Stream, The Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity, Changed Movement, First Stone Ministries, Brother’s Road/People Can Change, Voice of the Voiceless, Freedom March, Janet Boynes Ministries, and countless other “ex-gay” propagandists still have active pages. Are these hate sites scheduled to come down or will they continue to operate unobstructed and recruit youth, disseminate lies and destroy lives?
Surely, the multi-billion dollar Facebook could root out these major sites I just mentioned, and many others, within a one-day time period. It would literally take less than 30 minutes of their time and could be handled by an intern. Or, will these propaganda pages continue to fester like so many white supremacy sites do that have plagued Facebook?
The latest appalling example, reported by The Jerusalem Post today, discussed how the head of the Canadian Nationalist Party spewed a virulently anti-semitic screed in a Facebook video while calling for the expulsion of Jews from Canada.
“The question remains, as it always shall: Is he a member of that ‘parasitic tribe?’ Is he the ‘black sheep?’ A member of the so-called ‘inside manipulators?'” Patron said in the Facebook video. “Everywhere these people go, they infiltrate the media, they hijack the central bank, and they infect the body politic like a parasite….What we need to do, perhaps more than anything, is remove these people, once and for all, from our country.”
If Nazi ramblings as egregious as this, from a very well-known far right wing troglodyte, are still able to appear on Facebook — what are the chances that the company will truly address the lies peddled by conversion therapists?
While Facebook should be applauded for the move and given a fair chance to prove they are serious, their actions will reveal whether these new guidelines are historic or merely PR window dressing to help a flailing company in desperate need of an image facelift.
Given the pressure Mark Zuckerberg has been under — including an advertising boycott for disseminating hate, undermining democracy, coarsening our political culture and corrupting our elections, we hope this is a legitimate effort and real action will be taken in short order. There is reason to worry given how other minority groups have endured the empty rhetoric of Facebook executives, including credible charges of gaslighting .
The jury is out. If Facebook is sincere and adopts an expansive view of “conversion therapy” that covers religious groups, and acts rapidly to enforce its plan, this could be a game changer. However, if the narrowest definition of conversion therapy is embraced — meaning the rules are limited to stopping a licensed mental health professional (if they even follow-through and do that much) — it’s merely game-playing by Facebook that will have a disappointing, limited effect.
“Ex-lesbian” activist Janet Boynes, who is affiliated with Restored Hope Network, reacted to the news on Facebook.
“Ha ha ha! This is what we knew would happen. Instagram & facebook are only going after Christians but, we continue to move on.”
I suppose we will soon know whether Christian ministries are included in the policy. If “ex-gay” religious propaganda, Facebook pages and advertising content are actually flagged and removed, this would certainly complicate the ability of these groups to advertise and profit from their snake oil. They would be forced to peddle their programs in conservative synagogues and churches, which would severely limit their reach, especially among vulnerable LGBT youth. The jury is also still out on whether Facebook does a better job addressing “ex-gay” content than they do at thwarting messages from white supremacists, Russian Trump supporters and neo-Nazis.
In the meantime, congratulations to those who facilitated this change. If effective, it will save lives and curtail the noxious conversion therapy industry across the globe.