Why Is Social Media STILL Censoring The LGBTQIA+ Community?

We know that representation can have a profound, positive impact on the lives of those represented, and even save lives. We know how important it is to fight for more positive representation in media. So why are social media platforms censoring the LGBTQIA+ community?

“Representation can be life or death for people. It really can be the reason that you know who you are, and the reason that you know that who you are is okay, and more than okay it’s celebrated and beautiful.”
– Shannon Beveridge, @NowThisIsLiving, Creator / Director

We know that representation can have a profound, positive impact on the lives of those represented, and even save lives. We know how important it is to fight for more positive representation in media. But what if representation exists that we simply aren’t seeing?

My name is Lauren Zoltick, and I lead our social media and partnerships teams here at Storyblocks. Since before I started working here in April of 2020, the Storyblocks team has been hard at work on Re: Stock. Re: Stock is an initiative to fix the lack of diversity in stock media by hiring videographers and creators from underrepresented communities to create stock footage collections that feature the real, layered experiences of those communities. In May, we launched a set of footage collections, all created by an incredibly talented and diverse set of LGBTQIA+ creators, called Queer Spaces & Faces.

Why Is Social Media STILL Censoring The LGBTQIA+ Community?

Censorship on Twitter

On May 14th, Storyblocks posted a tweet with a trailer for our upcoming Re: Stock Queer Faces and Spaces collections, which you can watch below.

The video shows queer couples and friends. Being joyful. Being together. There is no nudity. There is no sex. They’re drinking coffee, holding hands, playing with their kids, cuddling – existing.

Shortly after posting, Twitter removed the video citing it as “sensitive content.” After several days, the removal was lifted – but it was after the collections had launched.

Ads not running on YouTube

Just a few days later, on May 17th, we posted the documentary we created about the Re: Stock Queer Spaces and Faces collections. It’s a beautiful tribute to the incredible work of the 6 LGBTQIA+ directors and creators we hired to make collections for our library. It talks about the importance of representation in media, the lack of queer joy and authentic queer moments in media today, and features their beautiful footage collections.

We started promoting the documentary on Youtube and noticed the ads were not spending. We reached out to our Youtube reps to understand why and, you guessed it, again… the reason was due to “adult content.” Clearly censoring of LGBTQIA content.

Representation in media is important

As a lesbian, seeing representation in media is a huge reason I am happy in and proud of my queerness. It’s not lost on me how incredible it is to work for a company that is investing in BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and other underrepresented creators and paying them with real budgets to create representation in stock media (a historically not diverse landscape) 365 days a year. Especially during Pride Month, where we’re all too often inundated with rainbow logos covering for zero effort from brands or corporations, or hearing queer creators not getting paid or paid appropriately for their work, and a slew of other issues. (Note: Pay queer creators and hire them year-round. Thank you.)

Regardless, Pride Month is a time to be proud and joyful. To celebrate and give thanks to the queer people like Marsha P Johnson, Bayard Rustin, Sylvia Rivera, Harvey Milk, and many others who paved the way for this community to be out, be proud, and be ourselves. It’s a time to walk, march, and dance down rainbow-paved streets and feel the tides changing to a braver, bolder, and more beautiful future where queerness is not something to hide but to be proud of. And we know that positive representation has a massive impact on this change. There’s so, so much work to do, but from Jojo Siwa, Laverne Cox, and Elliot Page to Wynonna Earp, Moments in Love, and Schitt’s Creek, the list is so long… representation for the queer community in media is at a high (next stop: more intersectionality).

So imagine the frustration we felt when we go to launch our beautiful queer content created by these talented LGBTQIA+ artists and it’s being censored just before Pride Month, where the channels censoring LGBTQIA+ content have massive Pride campaigns, summits, ads, and more planned.

Bias is built into the tools we use every day

You see, there are plenty of corporations, brands, and people out there that are forthcoming with their homophobia, racism, and hate (we see you, Chick-Fil-A). While they infuriate and confound me… I know they exist. I have the extreme privilege to (mostly) be able to avoid their establishments and communities. But what scares me so much right now is the quiet, subtle homophobia and racism *built into* the systems and tools we use every day.

Is there diverse and inclusive media being created that we aren’t even getting the chance to see? Are there queer people on their journey to self-discovery and acceptance not seeing the content they need because it is being censored? With the secrecy of how social networks’ algorithms prioritize content to surface, and with this type of censorship happening in plain sight, is it safe to assume that this content is also being deprioritized in organic feeds across networks?

We know this isn’t new – censoring of LGBTQIA+ keywords and hashtags on social channels has been known and written about for years. Like the time Twitter said a “technical bug” was the reason search results for #bisexual and #gay were blocked.

Or when Tumblr’s “Safe Mode” blocked non-sexual LGBTQIA+ content.

But, transparently, I didn’t think we’d run into that with this… in 2021… just ahead of, and during, Pride Month….until we did.

“I don’t doubt that this is a function of code, and not a direct human intervention,” says TJ Leonard, Storyblocks CEO. “But a human wrote that code. And if this isn’t evidence of systemic bias I don’t know what is. You should ask yourself, Twitter – if media mirrors back society, what kind of society are you trying to build?”

Let’s hold companies accountable

The LGBTQIA+ community spends too much of our lives hiding who we are and how we feel because it is so difficult to be what you cannot see. Representation changes lives. Representation saves lives.

Finally, FINALLY, brands, media companies, and corporations are investing more and more in creating representation. To know that this content is being created, and there may be so much more out there than we are even aware of, but that it might not make it to the screens of the people who NEED to see it… it’s infuriating.

So, that’s why we’re posting this. This may be overly optimistic, but our hope is that continuing to bring attention to this unnecessary censoring of LGBTQIA+, completely safe, joyful content of beautiful friendships, relationships, and families may trigger some self-reflection and action from these companies. It’s so easy for them to put their hands up and blame it on the code, but that is not enough. Humans write the code, so humans can change it. Let’s hold them accountable.

This censorship needs to end.

If you agree, please share far and wide.