Part 4: Guidance for convenors of social networking sites
First and foremost, sexual and gender minority users benefit from sites that are governed using clear rules and guidelines that are consistently and equitably enforced.
What do sexual and gender minority users need from social networking sites?
Consistency highlights the need not to treat sexual and gender minority users differently merely because their identities have been represented as sexualised or stigmatised.
In addition, sexual and gender minority users require access to clear channels for reporting abuse, and timely support when exposed to harmful or otherwise unwanted conduct. ‘Block’ and ‘report’ buttons should be clearly labelled and immediately accessible.
Content warnings and filters are generally preferable to censoring words or phrases. Whether particular words are offensive or harmful often depends on the context in which they are used. Words that may be offensive when used by people outside a community of interest can be used appropriately by those within a community. Automated censorship can accidentally target sexualised minorities discussing and narrating their experiences. Censorship, suspension, and removal of user accounts is, however, appropriate for deliberately offensive and threatening language.
Sexual and gender minorities benefit from being able to customise their experience. This applies both to the ability for individuals to select the content they wish to make visible or hide, and the capacity for communities to control what content is available for their members and on subsidiary parts of the network for them.
Two approaches can help social networks achieve this outcome. The first is official support for safe third-party applications that allow users to modify their user experience. The second is enabling interoperability by adopting common content labelling protocols with other social networks. This means that users moving between networks can more easily apply their preferred content controls to a new interactive environment. Communities operating on social network sites should be able to share templates of filters that users can opt to apply to their settings.
Social networks are important sites for identity construction and affirmation for many sexual and gender minorities. Individual identities are often fluid, and groups often use social networking as part of the process of generating more appropriate labels and identities. So, users must not be compelled to select an inappropriate label to participate on a social network. Identity labels and pronouns should be customisable. Users should be encouraged to state their preferred pronouns as part of their profile and, with each user’s permission, should be displayed in a dedicated field.
Although anonymity can be misused by harmful actors, many sexual and gender minority users require anonymity for self-protection. This is especially the case for users with family members who reject aspects of their identity, or users living within a community where sexual and gender minority status is stigmatised. Sexual and gender minorities may also adopt new names and personas online as a healthy part of the process of identity construction and transition. Personal information that can trace a user to an offline identity should be used only to exclude harmful actors from social networking sites.
Personal identifying information should not be displayed on profiles. Social networking sites should advise users not to share personal identifying information with people they do not trust or whose identity they have not verified. Moreover, a user’s social graph (the interconnections and relationships between users and community groups) should not be disclosed without explicit permission. Lists of friends and user groups should be private by default.