DO YOU get your information about LGBT organizations, events, books, and so on from social media? I hate to break the news, but that will soon be much harder. It seems the social media companies have decided that ads will no longer be allowed to imply anything “sensitive” about the customer, i.e., their race, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. So, while you’ve always been able to find out about, say, events for gay seniors, this will no longer be possible. Sure, organizations will still be able to post events on their Facebook page, but they won’t appear on your newsfeed.
Facebook in particular has long been known for censorship in some areas, permissiveness in others. They’re okay with disinformation campaigns that swing U.S. elections or enable anti-Muslim lynch mobs to organize in India, but they prohibit any hint of nudity or sexual content, including in artistic works (despite claims to the contrary). Facebook has been sued for blocking a classic painting by Courbet and called out by the Belgian Travel Authority for disallowing a Rubens painting.
As the owner of two tour companies, one focused on LGBT+ history and the other on women’s history, however, I can attest that the gay company is treated far more harshly by Facebook. We may get away with a bit of nudity in our women’s history ads, but the ones for LGBT+ events have been disallowed for the slightest hint of it. Even shirtless men were deemed obscene!
In fact, clearly their algorithm also flags the words “gay” and “LGBT” as obscene. One time they rejected an ad that displayed only the plaque on the building where Christopher Isherwood lived in the 1920s and wrote The Berlin Stories. That time I decided to complain, and I happened to get a manager on the phone. Predictably, all I got was a runaround. Even when the algorithm has clearly made a mistake, they’ll just direct you to reread the policy that you did not in fact violate.
But all this will soon seem quaint, as LGBT+ organizations will not be able to inform their fans about their offerings at all. In Facebook’s current manual, they explain that you should not use the term “LGBT+” in your ads. Instead, “Take this as an opportunity to distinguish the unique accomplishments of your group and communicate future plans so interested individuals can become involved.” But if what distinguishes your group is inseparable from its involvement with the LGBT+ community, you’re pretty much out of luck.
Perhaps we’ll figure out ways to sneak our information to the public—we’ve been there before. But if there are LGBT+ organizations whose offerings you like, you’ll need to check their websites and Facebook pages regularly. The information will not come to you any more.
Andrew Lear is the founder and director of Oscar Wilde Tours.