“The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.
Today’s column is written by Lauren Zoltick, director of performance marketing at Storyblocks.
In 1987, GLAAD persuaded The New York Times to change its editorial policy and begin including the word “gay” in its publication. More than 30 years later, the media landscape has changed drastically, yet we are still fighting to say gay.
The queer community is more powerful than you might realize. In fact, it constitutes a substantial percentage of the 50-million-strong creator economy. We are the fastest-growing minority group in the US, accounting for over 20% of Gen Z. We already have over $1.4 trillion in purchasing power. And when you consider our history, from the AIDS epidemic to Stonewall, our commitment to protect and love each other goes far beyond dollars and figures.
Yet, to date, social platforms have not fully embraced and supported our community. Across popular social networks like Facebook and TikTok, queer creators face censorship and potential legislation to limit their rights.
LGBTQ+ creator and activist Shannon Beveridge (she/her) believes “social media platforms have not realized the true power that is the queer community,” adding, “from my own experience I have some of the most loyal followers on social media. I came out WITH my followers; I grew up WITH my followers. The relationship we have with each other is deeper than just shared interests.”
If social media platforms understood the true value and influence of queer creators, we wouldn’t be fighting for more positive representation and safe spaces. We wouldn’t have to work against biased censorship and pay disparities. If social platforms want to build and keep our powerful community, they need to take the following steps:
1. Recognize how censorship impacts queer creators
Social networks want creators to make content that attracts audiences. In turn, brands pay for ad space to reach those audiences, and social platforms build creator funds using those ad dollars to incentivize creators to continue producing content. These funds are most often distributed based on viewership or engagement metrics.
If a social platform is censoring or limiting the reach of queer creators, particularly trans and black queer women creators, then it is unfairly limiting their income from the creator fund.
For many queer creators, “that is their only income,” according to LGBTQ+ creator Max Slack (he/they). “By unfairly discriminating against them for content that is [equally] or less invasive than … cis or cishet [content], you’re actively harming them.”
2. Change biased algorithms that censor safe content yet miss hate speech
Social platforms often flag content as “not ad friendly” simply because it uses the words “lesbian,” “gay,” “trans” or “bisexual.”
At the same time, however, hate speech goes unnoticed. “I have comments on my instagram posts that say things like, ‘kill yourself, [derogatory slur]’ and I report them and they find no violation,” Slack explains.
Slack believes social networks “can do better by educating the support teams and adjusting the systems that they use.” They add that, “I’ve worked in tech for a really long time and understand how difficult it is to run an effective and non-discriminatory platform. But that is not an excuse.”
3. Increase positive representation of underrepresented and marginalized communities
The content that gets censored is often helpful to queer people struggling with self-acceptance. And the families and friends of queer people struggling to accept them also need to see this positive representation. “Positive representation is lacking on social platforms. This is what a lot of queer creators are trying to do but we’re getting throttled by censorship,” Slack says.
Given the onslaught on anti-trans bills and surge in racism and transphobia, the people that are seemingly being censored the most are producing the content we most need to see. Content featuring trans joy is more important than ever.
“These algorithms are really suss,” says culture and fashion creator Jade Fox (she/her). “I’ve noticed it’s Black creators, [especially] Black women [being suppressed].” According to Beveridge, “we are lacking intersectionality across all platforms. Not only are social platforms not collaborating or boosting these creators, but they’re also censoring them.”
I hope social networks start listening to the pleas from queer creators and realize the impact their censorship has, not only to their own platforms but to the world at large. Until they do, I’ll leave you with the powerful words of writer, performer and public speaker ALOK (they/them):
“It used to be illegal for gender nonconforming people to even exist in public. Sometimes people would be arrested more than twenty times simply for what they were wearing. Nonetheless, our community continued to be visible against all odds. For centuries, they’ve tried their best to disappear us, but it never worked, and it will never work. Why? Because we love ourselves and one another more than they can ever hate us. And that’s what it means to be proud.”