This is an anti-discrimination toolkit for tackling online abuse directed at LGBTQ+ communities. It is part of a project aimed at working towards online inclusivity. It is produced through engagement with members of sexual and gender minority communities. The advice is focused on resources and legal powers available in the United Kingdom
Dr Rachela Colosi and Dr Nick Cowen, School of Social & Political Sciences
Dr Megan Todd, University of Central Lancashire
"In developing this toolkit, we hope to provide important information to SNS users across communities, as well as different stakeholders, educating and empowering each other to identify, challenge, and prevent the online abuse experienced by different sexual and gender minorities"
About the project
Incidents of discrimination directed at individuals due to their sexual or gender identity are commonplace, with SNS (Online Social Networking Sites) providing further opportunities for abuse. Online abuse experienced by minorities is significant; in response to this, academics from the University of Lincoln and UCLan carried out a study working with sexual and gender minorities to identify and resolve online abuse.
The project had two key aims:
- Firstly, to identify experiences of online discrimination directed at different sexual and gender minorities; and
- Secondly, to work collaboratively with those communities to begin to develop an anti-discrimination toolkit.
The toolkit aims to raise awareness of online abuse and to provide practical strategies to prevent the online discrimination directed at sexual and gender minorities.
Three key findings emerged from the project:
- First, sexual and gender minorities are stigmatised on SNS, with trans individuals and people who practice kink reporting the highest rates of discrimination
- Second, it was suggested that high rates of online abuse may relate to several factors, which include: the anonymity of users, providing opportunities for hostile responses; the constraints imposed by SNS platforms, including limitations to bio descriptors; the lack of clarity and inconsistence regarding SNS terms and conditions; and in the reporting protocol for online abuse.
- Third, it was found that SNS should take an active role in reducing and preventing online abuse, and users should be encouraged to challenge and report incidents. Legal professionals should work closely with victims of abuse and online platforms in identifying and addressing hate crimes. In addition, primary and secondary schools play an important role in promoting a non-judgmental understanding of diverse identities and relationships, which should be incorporated into their teaching.
There were two phases of the project:
- Phase 1 involved a series of working focus groups; here the research team worked collaboratively with 18 representatives from LGBTQ+ communities to firstly help identify the challenges faced by sexual and gender minorities on SNS, and secondly to start to develop an anti-discrimination toolkit.
- Phase 2 involved presenting the draft toolkit to various stakeholders via a live webinar. The webinar provided a space to evaluate the toolkit and help set its future direction. The project has provided an opportunity to work collaboratively with a range of experts and sexual and gender minorities to identify and address online discrimination, by offering practical solutions for policy makers. Alongside the presentation of the anti-discrimination toolkit, the webinar was led by four keynote speakers, including Kirrin Medcalf (Head for Trans Inclusion – Stonewall); Jessica Lynn (Kinsey Institute); Mel Stray (Hate Crime & Campaigns Manager – Galop); and Myles Jackman (Legal advisor – Backlash), and attracted attendees from local police force representatives, local school and University representatives, members from LGBTQ+ communities, and SNS policy makers. The webinar has helped to further develop the toolkit based on the expertise of the speakers and discussions which emerged between the different stakeholders who attended.
The Toolkit is divided into seven parts, which comprise of a series of related questions. In the first part we set out the purpose of the toolkit and provide some background information about sexual and gender minorities. The second section explores online abuse directed at sexual and gender minorities; here we provide some examples of users’ experiences of online discrimination. In the third part we suggest ways in which users can protect themselves from online hostility, including protocols for reporting discrimination. Finally, in parts four to seven, specific advice is offered to SNS convenors, educators, and police forces; these more specifically targeted sections aim to broaden advice to relevant stakeholders.
Facebook LGBTQ+ Online Inclusivity Toolkit
Dr Rachela Colosi
Senior Lecturer, School of Social & Political Sciences
Rachela is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Lincoln, and co-developer of the LGBTQ+ Online Inclusivity Toolkit hosted by the Eleanor Granville Centre. She is also the EDI Co-Chair in the School of Social & Political Sciences.
Rachela’s work with Nick Cowen explores the experiences of sexual and gender minorities on Online Social Networking Sites (SNS). This includes understanding the role of SNS in the construction of gender and sexual identities, and the ways in which online spaces support, but equally inhibit, non-normative expressions of gender and sexuality. The Online Inclusivity Toolkit was developed collaboratively with research participants representing LGBTQ+ communities, and aims to assist individuals, digital platforms, regulators, and civil society actors to make online life more welcoming to sexual and gender minorities. The research was funded by Research England’s QR Strategic Priorities Fund (QR SPF).
Rachela has a research interest in sexualities and sexualised bodies. She has published work exploring lap-dancing club culture, the working conditions of lap-dancers, and on the regulation of sex work and sexual entertainment. Rachela has more recently published on the stigma management strategies of kinksters on SNS. Finally, as an ethnographer, she is interested in exploring different ways of developing this methodology and the positionality of the participant observer. Academic Profile
Dr Nick Cowen
Senior Lecturer, School of Social & Political Sciences
Nick is Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Lincoln (UK), and co-developer of the LGBTQ+ Online Inclusivity Toolkit hosted by the Eleanor Glanville Centre. He is also research Ethics Lead in the School of Social and Political Sciences.
Nick’s work with Rachela Colosi explores the expression of sexuality on online platforms. This includes the positive role of social networking sites in the constitution of minority identities and as spaces where discrimination and abuse can take place. Their aim is to discover ways that individuals, digital platforms, regulators, and civil society actors can make online life more welcoming to sexual and gender minorities. Their research is supported by UK Research and Innovation.
Nick’s research agenda is on the tensions between individualism and the moral imperatives of social justice. He is an expert on processes of discrimination and coercion both within legal systems and networks. His work on the criminalisation of minority sexual practitioners is published in the American Journal of Political Science. He is also the author of Neoliberal Social Justice (2021, Edward Elgar).
Nick is a Don Lavoie teaching scholar at the Mercatus Center, George Mason University. He was previously a Fellow at the New York University School of Law. He is an Associate Editor of Humanities and Social Sciences Communications. Academic profile
Dr Megan Todd
Senior Lecturer in Social Science, UCLan
Megan Todd is a Senior Lecturer and Course Leader in Sociology at the University of Central Lancashire. Megan’s recent research work explores the experiences of sexual and gender minorities online. In collaboration with Rachela Colosi and Nick Cowen, this includes a focus on Online Social Networking Sites (SNS), considering the ways in which SNS enable exploration and affirmation of sexual identities, with an acknowledgement that they might also constitute spaces where identities are policed, surveilled and subject to abuse.
Megan has a research interest in sexualities and gender and violence. She has published on issues relating to intimate partner violence, ageing, health, feminisms and homophobic and misogynist abuse online. She has been involved in a range of research projects, including an exploration of LGBT+ domestic abuse service users’ experiences in Lancashire. More recently, she is developing work on universities’ management of their LGBT+ heritage. Academic Profile