New Reports Show Online Companies Irresponsibility Continuing to Allow “Ex-Gay” Materials

We already knew that social media companies were undermining democracies, lowering the self-esteem of teenagers, aiding dictators and sporadically assisting with genocides. Now we can add peddling the discredited practice of “ex-gay” conversion therapy to the loathsome list. Two new reports by The Global Project Against Hate and Extremism found that social media companies are “failing” to block organizations who offer widely discredited “conversion therapy.”

Heidi Beirich, report coauthor and cofounder of GPAHE, said, “We hope these reports help tech companies clean up their platforms when it comes to anti-LGBTQ+ conversion therapy material.”

The two reports are laudable and could potentially lead to further action by the bumbling Tech-Bros. However, I have as much faith in social media companies as I do in Donald Trump behaving if he’s ever allowed to rejoin Twitter. Sure, these corporations have taken baby steps to scrub their sites of conversion pseudoscience. But Silicon Valley is going about protecting LGBTQ people in the same way they are promising to safeguard democracy: Half-hearted and half-assed.  

The reason I suspect that they are dragging their feet is because haters are a significant slice of online market share. If social media companies are too tough on this deleterious demographic, they risk losing users. They have also created business models based on keeping people engaged by making them enraged. If these companies can guide the gullible down rabbit holes of hate, they will spend more time online, which is good for the bottom line. It’s all about growth – very much like cancer.

The truth is, these social media companies could eliminate the vast majority of conversion therapy material online within a matter of days, if not hours. GPAHE’s two reports are a veritable roadmap for change, but these companies will likely prefer to take the backroads of bigotry to avoid accountability, while maximizing profitability.

The attitudes of social media companies remind me of basketball legend Michael Jordan. In 1990, he declined to endorse black North Carolina U.S. Senate candidate Harvey Gantt, in his bid to unseat segregationist Sen. Jesse Helms. Jordan explained his non-endorsement by saying, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” In this case, the social media giants are basically saying, “haters have profiles too”.

Twenty states and the District of Colombia have banned the insidious practice of conversion therapy for minors. Entire countries, most recently France and Canada, prohibit it as well – with Canada also banning it for adults. With fewer venues for conversion quacks to hawk their toxic tripe, online efforts are keeping the industry alive. Often, these con artists avoid detection by rebranding themselves Christian counselors or “consultants” who eliminate “unwanted same-sex attraction” or provide “reintegrative therapy”.

Social media companies must take a stand and stop being the primary purveyors of this poison.   

While the tech companies are doing a slightly better job stopping conversion practices from being disseminated in English, the “ex-gay” industry is circumventing these efforts by offering their programs in foreign languages. According to one GPHA report: “In Kenya, the difference in [online search] results between English and Swahili is highly problematic. English leads to a mix of trustworthy information, while in Swahili, the results led to material and propaganda that disparage and mock LGBTQ people and treat conversion therapy as reputable. Even the Wikipedia page in Swahili in Kenya is filled with malicious disinformation”.

We must never lose sight of the fact that conversion therapy can be deadly. One of the most recent and disturbing examples is Alana Chen, a 24-year-old lesbian who died by suicide in a Colorado park in 2019. LGBTQ Nation reports that before she died, Chen was interviewed by a local newspaper about a priest who put her through conversion therapy while she was in high school.

“I was feeling so much shame that I was comforted by the thought of hurting myself,” she said in that interview, just months before she died. She explained that she was raised Catholic and that the priest told her not to tell her parents when she came out and to instead accept counseling from him, which went on for years.

Last week, Chen’s mother, Joyce Calvo, wrote a column for the National Catholic Reporter condemning Father David Nix, for secretly counseling Alana behind her back.

“He gave her disturbing articles vilifying gay people and asked her to share intimate personal details about her sexual feelings,” Calvo wrote. “He insisted she could change her orientation. And that this would make her worthy to be a nun.”

The entire point of conversion therapy is to persuade LGBTQ people that they are sick, sinful and broken – and therefore must change. If a person is made to believe such garbage, they will feel like trash – disposable and expendable – with the results often ending in tragedy. These programs never work, with almost every former “ex-gay” leader saying they lied about altering their sexual orientation to gain societal acceptance, particularly within the church.     

Unfortunately, there will be more unhappy endings if “anti-social” media companies continue to ride carefree down the Disinformation Superhighway that they have carelessly and callously created. If they really wanted to, these corporations could eliminate most forms of Nazi networking, racist rants, crackpot conspiracies and conversion therapy con artists. But first, they would have to finally decide to stop profiteering from prejudice – with the almighty dollar a dangerous drug that they have shown no genuine intention of kicking.  

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