Instagram and Facebook to ban conversion therapy content

Mathew Shurka, co-founder of Born Perfect and a conversion therapy survivor. (Photo courtesy of Mathew Shurka)

Instagram and Facebook on July 10 announced they will ban conversion therapy content on their sites, following a block on ads promoting the practice earlier this year.

announcement comes on the heels of the U.N. formally
for a global conversion therapy ban.

Mathew Shurka, co-founder of Born Perfect, a project run by him and the National Center for Lesbian Rights that is dedicated to ending conversion therapy, worked with Instagram and Facebook to create a system to identify content promoting the practice. Shurka also worked with Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ issues, in preparation for the global call to end conversion therapy.  

Shurka said this ban will protect LGBTQ people from viewing misleading or convincing content promoting conversion therapy. Social media sites have become a platform for promoting the practice, and he said this ban can eradicate that spread.

As a
survivor of conversion therapy, Shurka said this call by the U.N. and social
media content ban is “incredibly important” for LGBTQ rights on a global scale.

I was in conversion therapy and lost and confused, I literally had no
resources,” he said. “Now you have the U.N. being really clear on a global
level that this is something that has to end, and we’re going to push forward
in advocating for that … It’s just the world of a difference as a survivor for
me, and I really do think it will save lives and save families from ever
choosing to go down that path.”

Bishop, a senior research advisor with OutRight Action International, said this
action by Instagram and Facebook is a step towards “multi-sector involvement”
in banning conversion therapy.

at any level, that are successful in blocking access to harmful programs and
interventions is really very important,” Bishop said. “This move by Instagram
and Facebook represents another dimension of bans — now it’s the private sector
also getting involved.”

Bishop also said for this action to make an impact in eradicating conversion therapy, the fundamental discrimination embedded in societies and cultures needs to also be recognized. Shurka and Bishop both said they hope this action inspires other companies in the private sector to get involved in eliminating conversion therapy practices, especially other social networking sites.

Algorithms need to be adapted, experts say

said creating the algorithm to detect anti-LGBTQ content was a “complicated”
process of identifying simple sentences and key phrases that suggest conversion
therapy while resisting making the language restrictions too broad. Phrasing on
the practice was analyzed from across the globe and evaluated in multiple
languages, as well.

Bishop said many sites and organizations that promote conversion therapy employ deceptive phrasing and utilize misleading marketing tools, such as including Pride flags in anti-LGBTQ content. The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, for example, changed its name to the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity in 2014 to appear more “choice” focused and scientifically backed.

order to maintain the ban and protect LGBTQ individuals against conversion
therapy content, Bishop also said social media platforms will have to keep up
with the ever-changing branding.

always going to be new content coming out that may be less obvious at the
beginning that it’s harmful,” she said. “That’s going to be the challenge, that
you’re keeping up with the evolution of terminology and branding to ensure that
things aren’t slipping through.”

also said conversion therapists use language that can be misleading, such as
“gender wholeness” or “sexual wholeness” to market the practice.

Critics’ expectations low

Besen, the founder of Truth Wins Out, said he applauds the companies for
announcing this ban, but said he wants to see action before calling the effort
a victory.

Wins Out is a non-profit organization that specializes in uncovering “ex-gay”
conversion leaders’ claims, advocating for anti-LGBTQ media to be taken down
and providing platforms for survivors of conversion therapies to share their

said he is unsure if social media companies would make the effort to sort
through conversion therapy content because they rarely police white supremacy and
other hateful content.

they’re not going to be able to address neo-Nazis and white supremacists, are
they going to be serious about ex-gay conversion therapy?” he said.

also said content on conversion therapy is only “five or 10 percent of the
problem” online, and anti-LGBTQ activity is still rampant and harmful on
digital platforms.

want to see action. I don’t want to see this as a PR stunt at a time when
they’re under increasing pressure,” he said.

Published at Wed, 15 Jul 2020 19:23:10 +0000