Election Radar: Anti-trans hate speech and misinformation surges on social media as Deves' campaign occupies headlines

  • Election Radar
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Reset Australia is investigating social media activity during the Federal election, with a focus on platform transparency, misinformation, disinformation and hate speech. To support those responding, our Election Radar shared emergent case studies to track how this material is travelling across social media platforms to reach Australians preparing to vote.
Reset Australia conducts research and analysis of the distortion of public narratives by social media, we do not endorse any of the views contained in these reports, nor do we publish all Election Radar briefings.

Anti-trans hate speech and misinformation surges on social media as Deves’ campaign occupies headlines

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Please note, to adequately highlight the problems of how platforms amplify hateful and false content this briefing includes images and text examples.

The circumstances surrounding Warringah Liberal Candidate Katherine Deves’ candidacy and her views on trans and gender diverse communities has dominated national election coverage in recent weeks. As the debate plays out with differing views on the inclusion of trans women in sport and the need for this debate given existing legislation, on social media, we are observing the algorithmic distortion of the public discourse through the proliferation of hate speech and misinformation across major platforms.

We have observed prominent accounts including candidates, civil society organisations, Facebook groups and media commentators, sharing large volumes of content that propagates hateful and false narratives, including intentionally misgendering people. Key tropes of these posts, and a large number of the comments they generated, included:

  • trans people are liars;
  • trans women are commonly sexually predators; and,
  • trans people are likely to be paedophiles hoping to groom children.

In recent months, a large share of this content has focused on US college swimmer Lia Thomas.

Screenshot of a Facebook post by the account Binary Australia from 3 weeks ago with the text, ‘My generation had Wonder Woman. You generation has, Wonder if it’s a Woman.’ and the statistics that it has outperformed regular posts by the account by 5.7 times.

Memes and videos belittling trans women have seen a huge uptick in engagement since Lia Thomas’s swimming win in late February.

We have observed that actors in this space claim their main focus is protecting women’s sport when in fact their posts focus primarily on misgendering and propagating false claims about trans people. From late March, a video by anti-trans campaigners Binary, that pointedly and repeatedly misgenders Lia Thomas, belittles trans women and states that trans women pose a physical threat, outperformed previous posts by its authors by 80 times, receiving over 27k interactions, thousands of comments, and over 750k views (Crowdtangle).

In recent weeks, similar Facebook video, image and text posts, that frequently repeat misinformation about and misgender trans women, have seen a massive surge in engagement according to Meta’s analysis tool Crowdtangle, and several key amplifiers of this content have seen a significant uptick in followers.

Screenshot of a Facebook post by Save Women’s Sports Australasia from 20 April with that shares a video from SBS’s Insights program with an interview with Deborah Acason.

Save Women’s Sport Australia have amplified misinformation that many trans women have a condition called ‘autogynephilia’, which NSW-based health organisation ACON says is not supported by any credible research. This post misrepresents the comments of Australian weightlifter Deborah Acason; whilst she describes being ‘confronted’ and ‘distracted’ by competing against a trans athlete, she does not mention changing facilities or ‘autogynephilia’ in the video this post shares.

Screenshot of a Facebook images post by Binany, with an image of and quote from Sall Grover, ‘If you think that women have p*nises, I won’t believe a single word you say about anything else. Because if you will lie about something so obvious, I will assume you lie about everything.’

One of Binary’s image posts that attacks trans women as systematic liars, has outperformed their usual engagement by 80 times (Crowdtangle).

Screenshot of a Facebook images post by Binary, showing a Tweet by @WillRicci with the text, ‘The whole LGBT movement went from ‘stay out of our bedroom’ to ‘hey there kindergartener, you should know what happens in our bedroom’ real fast.’

Other Binary posts dog whistle at harmful misinformation tropes about LGBTQ people being paedophiles.

Screenshot of a Facebook meme post by FamilyVoice Australia, with the text ‘Dark side of the groom’ and an image of the famous Pink Floyd album cover with labels to indicate ’normal children’ being transformed into ’trans kids’ by ‘woke teachers’.

A meme circulated by FamilyVoice Australia amplifies misinformation about the ‘grooming’ of children.

Another Facebook page with over 30k followers, FamilyVoice Australia, has seen huge engagement during this period by posting content that connects into US current affairs. Several of its posts about Lia Thomas were at times amongst the highest circulating content amongst Australia Facebook Pages according to Crowdtangle.

There are also examples of actors monetising content designed to belittle trans people and provoke outrage. For example, Mark Latham’s Facebook account received over 950k views with a re-uploaded video from a US-based YouTube comedian that satirises trans women and features a lengthy advertisement for electric toothbrushes.

In addition to the trend of increased engagement with these misgendering and attacking posts, we have observed a related trend of increasing exclusionary language on Twitter and Facebook which the US-based Anti-Defamation League describes as ‘intentionally misgendering transgender women and girls’ to erase trans and non-binary identities. Use of these terms, ‘biological male/ female/ woman/ man/ boy/ girl’, have dramatically surged on Twitter in recent days. While Crowdtangle shows some increase in the use of these terms on Facebook in recent weeks, it is not possible to collect data for closed Facebook Group discussions or comments, making it difficult to compare these trends.

A chart showing a growing trend of increasing impressions of tweets over time, peaking at over 75 thousand a day in the last few days.

Daily impressions of posts with the terms ‘biological male/ female/ woman/ man/ boy/ girl’ on Twitter in the last 90 days, via Meltwater

We also observed misinformation being spread by significant news media influencers on Facebook, seemingly intended to provoke outraged responses. In a Facebook post discussing Deves’ candidacy, 2GB host Ben Fordham made the false claim that ‘In America - transgender swimmers have just won every freestyle race at the national college championships’. In fact, just one trans athlete, Lia Thomas, won one of the 8 freestyle races at the event being referenced, the US National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1 Women’s Swimming & Diving Championships held in March 2022.

Our research highlights content that is in clear violation of Meta’s hate speech policy and Twitter’s hateful conduct policy (which includes misgendering and deadnaming as a form of hate speech), several of which gained significantly large interactions. Meta and Twitter’s inability to enforce their content moderation policies to protect Australian-based users during the election demonstrates the failure of self-regulation of social media. The need for stronger regulation is clear.

Accordingly, Reset Australia is calling for expansion of the definition of cyber-abuse (as per the Online Safety Act) to recognise societal and community harms, not just individual harms. We are also calling for a new mandatory Code of Practice on Misinformation and Disinformation, developed by regulators (not industry), and is in line with reforms underway in the EU as part of the Digital Services Act.