Content warning: use of homophobic and transphobic language.
According to an investigation conducted by human rights group Global Witness, ads containing extreme and violent hate against LGBTQ+ people in Ireland submitted to Facebook, TikTok and YouTube were approved for publication by all three leading social media platforms.
Global Witness is a social and environmental justice organisation that conducted a test on the submission of hateful ads to leading social media platforms. They submitted ten ads to Facebook, TikTok and YouTube containing hateful language against the LGBTQ+ community. The ads included comparisons of LGBTQ+ people to “paedophiles”, calls to “burn all gays” and for the “trans lobby” to be killed.
All ads were approved for publication by both YouTube and TikTok, while Facebook rejected only two of them. Ads containing “burn all gays” messaging and language that encouraged men to use violence against trans women were approved by all three platforms. None of the ads went live because Global Witness removed their request for publication before the due date.
The European headquarters of both Meta and Google, which respectively own Facebook and YouTube, are based in Ireland and thus fall under the jurisdiction of the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC). The DPC has been accused of failing to enforce European data protection law and instead prioritising the interest of the Silicon Valley.
Digital threats campaign leader at Global Witness, Naomi Hirst, said that Irish authorities must hold platforms accountable for all content that they publish. “We know all too well that when hate is allowed to spread online, it doesn’t take long to spill over into the real world,” Hirst said. “Ireland prides itself on its open and inclusive attitudes but it urgently needs to get a grip on the dark underbelly of hatred that flourishes online.”
“With big tech firms like Facebook and Google basing their European HQs in Dublin, Ireland has a unique responsibility to hold platforms that are failing to stem the spread of hate accountable,” she added. “In appointing two new data protection commissioners, Ireland has an opportunity to put LGBTQ+ people, their safety, dignity, and rights above Silicon Valley profits – it must take it.”
Anti-LGBTQ+ ads targeting Irish users were approved for publication on Facebook, TikTok & YouTube.
As home to Facebook and Google's European HQs, we call on the Irish 🇮🇪 government to act to protect users from violent extremism and hate on social media.https://t.co/soNIJ2YGcj
— Global Witness (@Global_Witness) February 23, 2023
In response to the investigation, a spokesperson from Meta stated that they continue to make improvements to their system for detecting harmful content. “Hate speech has no place on our platforms, and these types of ads should not be approved,” the spokesperson said.
“That said, these ads never went live, and our ads review process has several layers of analysis and detection, both before and after an ad goes live,” they added. “We continue to improve how we detect violating ads and behaviour and make changes based on trends in the ads ecosystem.”
Similarly, social media giant TikTok, which last year announced new guidelines banning anti-LGBTQ+ content from their app, said that hate speech “has no place” on their platform. “Our advertising policies, alongside our community guidelines, prohibit ad content that contains hate speech or hateful behaviour,” their statement reads.
It continued by saying: “Ad content passes through multiple levels of verification before receiving approval, and we remove violative content. We regularly review and improve our enforcement strategies”.
Google was also shown the results of the test on YouTube, but has not responded to a request for comment.
The Irish government is currently in the process of appointing two new Commissioners for the Irish Data Protection Commission, who will have the mandate to reform the Commission and ensure that Big Tech companies are held accountable.
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