A recent investigation has found that several young LGBT+ users on Facebook have been targeted by a number of “gay cure” advertisements. The study, carried out by the Telegraph, discovered that Facebook users who had ‘liked’ pages related to gender issues had seen content promoting “gay conversion therapy” and “sexual purity” emerge on their news feeds. Many of the users were young members of the LGBT+ community.
The anti-LGBT+ content included videos and books that promoted gay conversion therapy. A video entitled “Homosexuality Was My Identity” appeared on the feed of Facebook user Tessa Ann Schwartz. Schwartz, who had liked pages relating to LGBT+ issues, reported the ad. She criticized the social media giant for allowing the targeting of users who have “intentionally sought out community and education amongst peers”.
Another user, Alystair Ryder was “shaken” after a book “Help for Men with Same-Sex Attraction” was marketed to him. The book, which was written by an Evangelical conversion therapist, advocated for a “gay cure”. Ryder described the book as being “written in a way to try and appeal to people who may be depressed or self-loathing due to their sexuality”.
When users clicked on the “Why am I seeing this ad?” feature, they were told it was due to their interest in “gender issues”. The content goes against Facebook’s own advertising standards. The platform’s policies state that advertisers must not “engage in predatory practices or contain content that discriminates against, harasses, provokes or disparages people who use Facebook or Instagram”. Facebook has removed the adverts, and blamed the promotion of material on an “algorithm blunder”. A spokesperson told the Telegraph that they have “rejected the ads and are no longer running them”. The incident emerges after Facebook promised to crack down on discrimination by disabling over 5000 ad-targeting features.
Facebook received criticism for allowing LGBT+ users to be targeted with material promoting gay conversion therapy. Speaking to the Telegraph, Paul Twocock, the Director of Campaigns, Policy and Research at Stonewall described the content as “offensive”, citing the “clear evidence of the damage conversion therapy does to LGBT+ people’s health and well-being”.
The practice of gay conversion therapy has been completely disavowed by a number of medical organisations, including the NHS, the British Psychological Society and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The three medical bodies released a statement in 2014, which labelled the practice as “potentially harmful” and “unethical”.
This instance points to a dangerous rhetoric in which LGBT+ identities are labelled as something that may be cured. This story emerges over the same weekend Pope Francis suggested that gay children and their parents should seek psychiatric help.
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