Right-wing figures, particularly from the Daily Wire, weaponized a January 19 Dr. Phil episode to spread anti-trans hatred and drive Facebook engagement on their posts. The episode posited nonbinary identities as up for “debate” and featured nonbinary people and allies alongside anti-trans parents and the Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh.
Media Matters examined our dataset of news and politics pages on Facebook and found that among these, right-leaning pages were nearly alone in reacting to the episode, driving more than 3.3 million views to one selectively edited video in which Walsh mocked the nonbinary panelists, repeatedly asked them to define womanhood, and then accused them of trying to “appropriate womanhood and turn it into basically a costume that can be worn.”
From January 17 through 24, right-leaning Facebook pages related to news and politics posted about the Dr. Phil episode far more often and earned vastly more total interactions than either nonaligned or left-leaning pages.
- Right-leaning Facebook pages earned 717,329 interactions (99.8%) across 141 posts about the episode.
- Ideologically nonaligned and left-leaning pages earned less than 1% of interactions across a combined 6 posts.
- Eighteen of the top 20 posts about the episode came from pages associated with the Daily Wire, with 11 coming from Daily Wire founder Ben Shapiro.
Both Shapiro and Walsh shared a video titled “Leftists Traumatized After Meeting Me” in which Walsh mocked the nonbinary guests of the episode for sharing that they had experienced nightmares and depression as a result of their appearance on the show.
Walsh also used his appearance on the episode to tease his future plans to launch “an all out assault on gender ideology,” saying that “We have been working on something that will make the Dr Phil episode seem tame and boring by comparison.” Walsh has a history of promoting hateful views about LGBTQ people, as well as racist and misogynistic comments. He previously published a children’s book comparing being trans to pretending to be a walrus, which was mislabeled and shot to the top of Amazon’s LGBTQ bestsellers page before being removed from that category and recategorized as “Political Commentary & Opinion.”
The Dr. Phil episode focused on the use of nonbinary pronouns at a time when a growing number of Americans use pronouns other than she or he to describe themselves. According to a 2021 study from the Williams Institute, more than 1 million adults in the U.S. describe themselves as nonbinary. Using the correct pronouns for people is a sign of respect, and the use of stated pronouns can help reduce confusion for the many people -- including many cisgender (non-transgender) people -- who have ambiguous names or gender presentations. Affirming the identities of trans youth, including through correct pronouns, reduces the odds of serious mental health conditions like depression and suicidal ideation.
Although the episode presented the idea of gender neutral pronouns as somewhat novel, 26% of Americans say that they know someone who uses them, up from 18% in 2018. This episode was just the latest example of how careless, allegedly neutral content that depicts the lives of LGBTQ people as debatable can be weaponized by right-wing media to promote hate and harassment online.
Using CrowdTangle, Media Matters compiled a list of 1,773 Facebook pages that frequently posted about U.S. politics from January 1 to August 25, 2020.
For an explanation of how we compiled pages and identified them as right-leaning, left-leaning, or ideologically nonaligned, see the methodology here.
The resulting list consisted of 771 right-leaning pages, 497 ideologically nonaligned pages, and 505 left-leaning pages.
Every day, Media Matters also uses Facebook's CrowdTangle tool and this methodology to identify and share the 10 posts with the most interactions from top political and news-related Facebook pages.
Using CrowdTangle, Media Matters compiled all posts for the pages on this list that were posted between 11:40 a.m. EST January 17, 2022, and 11:40 a.m. EST January 24, 2021, and were related to Walsh's appearance on Dr. Phil. We reviewed data for these posts, including total interactions (reactions, comments, and shares), post type, and video views.
We defined posts as related to the segment if they had the following terms in the message or in the included link, article headline, or article description: Dr. Phil and either non-binary, nonbinary, gender, pronouns, trans, or transgender.