LGBTQ Content Filtering: Update #5

In this update I wanted to detail some of the interesting things I’ve found related to Facebook’s LGBTQ micro-targeting.

I found multiple reports of gay men on Facebook being targeted with ads for conversion therapy. Although the number of users who saw these ads was small, it is nonetheless foreshadowing of other issues that could occur. According to an investigation by the Telegraph, in summer 2018 there were multiple reports of queer users being targeted by conversion therapy ads. The ad, although not explicitly hateful, prayed on user’s self doubts by offering “help for men with same-sex attraction” and “a path to sexual purity.” This obviously can be very damaging to user’s mental health, especially ones that are not publicly out and are worried about being outed. Although isolated, this is evidence Facebook is not doing enough to ensure that advertisers have good intentions when targeting certain groups of users. It’s entirely possible for others to follow this case, targeting queer Facebook users with hateful threatening advertisements or ones meant to trick them into a scam.

Also, although this is a little unrelated, I still think it’s an important example of how the LGBTQ community could be targeted through Facebook. In early 2019, the popular dating app Tinder was added to a list of companies who “have agreed to store user data and messages in Russia and to share that data with Russian government and intelligence agencies.” This would give the Russian government and law enforcement access to user’s private data on the app. Besides being a blatant breach of privacy, this would endanger the lives of LGBTQ users on the app. Yet, according to some reports, this move is intended to threaten massive social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to also comply with the law. Although the Russian government has already tried to make Russian users’ data accessible, they were only fined 3,000 rubles (around $46 dollars) for not complying. Additionally, there are reports the fines for not complying could be raised to “as much as 1 percent of a company’s annual revenue in Russia.”

If threats continue to exacerbate, and Facebook eventually complies with the data-sharing law, the lives of members of the LGBTQ community in Russia would be endangered. The government would be able to view the information users have provided on their sexuality and gender, such as in the personal information section of their profile. The friend networks of these users would also become accessible, and since law enforcement already forces detainees to share the names of other queer people, it is likely this information would be abused as well. Even if users have no information on their sexuality in their profile, Facebook’s capability to predict users interest in LGBTQ-related topics based on their search history, location, and friends would still put them in danger. This is definitely a scary possibility, and a symptom of Facebook’s issues with how it protects users’ data.


In my next update, I’ll be looking at the ads ran by the Russian Internet Research Agency around the time of the 2016 election.