A Media Matters study of interactions (reactions, comments, shares) on published online content about trans topics shared on Facebook found that right-leaning sources earned considerably higher engagement than all other sources combined.
This study comes after Media Matters has extensively and repeatedly debunked allegations of a bias against right-wing content on Facebook. Despite this, Facebook has consistently caved to conservative demands. It has granted conservatives top positions at the company, included right-wing Breitbart News in a list of trusted news sources, met with right-wing media personalities like Tucker Carlson, and allowed the “trending” function to be taken over by an algorithm that often promotes false, partisan right-wing news.
We looked at 225 pieces of high-performing content on trans topics -- articles, blog posts, videos -- which earned a combined total of nearly 66 million interactions on Facebook. Content about trans people and related topics from right-leaning sources constituted 65.7% of those interactions. Comparatively, 15.4% of all interactions were earned by content from queer sources, 3.9% from left-leaning sources, 10.4% from nonaligned sources, and 4.6% from “other” sources.
In particular, content from right-leaning sources about trans athletes and about medical care for trans folks, specifically trans youth, earned high engagement, and right-wing outlets The Daily Wire and LifeSiteNews published more high-performing Facebook content about trans issues than any other outlets.
This has consequences. Millions of Americans get their news from Facebook and other social media platforms; Pew Research Center found that 52% of Americans get news on Facebook. Media Matters’ analysis of trans-related content shared on Facebook shows that those Americans are often getting biased, bigoted, and misinformative news. This content directly harms public discourse and policy surrounding trans folks.
Furthermore, this discourse has undoubtedly led to the online harassment and abuse of trans people, who have been victims of doxxing -- the act of publishing a person’s private or personal information, including address or location. In fact, according to a 2019 Forbes report, “12% of all conversations about being trans contain abuse.” In response to such abuse, the United Kingdom has used “malicious communication” policies that address the targeting and harassment of trans people online, among other issues.
- There were a total of 225 pieces of content -- articles, blog posts, videos -- about trans topics that earned 100,000 or more Facebook interactions and were published from February 15, 2019, through February 15, 2020; that content earned a combined total of nearly 66 million total interactions.
- Content from right-leaning sources earned a total of over 43.33 million interactions, or roughly 65.7% of the total interactions. These sources earned nearly two times the engagement of all other sources combined.
- In comparison, all other sources earned a total of 22.59 million interactions:
- Queer outlets earned 15.4% of the total interactions analyzed, the second highest level of engagement after right-leaning sources.
- Nonaligned sources earned 10.4% of interactions analyzed, left-leaning sources 3.9%, and “other” sources 4.6%.
- Right-leaning sources published 56% (126) of the 225 pieces of content. This includes the top 5 pieces of content, and 14 of the top 20.
- Anti-LGBTQ outlets The Daily Wire and LifeSiteNews earned the highest engagement of any sources analyzed and had the most pieces that earned more than 100,000 interactions.
- The Daily Wire published 25 pieces of content that earned a total 5.61 million interactions.
- LifeSiteNews published 16 pieces of content that earned a total 8.84 million interactions.
- Queer outlets were the only sources that were not right-leaning to be in the top 10 sources. PinkNews and Gay Star News both earned more than 2 million total interactions, and NBC Out earned nearly 1.66 million.
- Content from right-leaning sources about trans athletes (53 pieces) accounted for 23.6% of all 225 pieces of content. Its nearly 21.21 million interactions made up nearly one third of all Facebook engagement on top trans-related content, and the content earning the highest engagement of any post was a blog post attacking trans athletes by extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom.
- Content from right-leaning sources about medical care for trans people (27 pieces) also frequently earned high engagement, accounting for 12% of all 225 pieces of content analyzed. This content earned a total of 8.31 million Facebook interactions.
For this study, Media Matters analyzed English-language linked content with significant discussion of trans-related topics that were published between February 15, 2019, and February 15, 2020, and earned over 100,000 total interactions (reactions, comments, shares) on Facebook. In total, we analyzed 225 pieces of content that met these guidelines.
We coded the 225 pieces of content by the ideology of the publishing outlet (right-leaning, left-leaning, or nonaligned) or whether the source was an LGBTQ or queer media outlet. Several outlets that did not fit in any of the above categories or contained a mix of left-leaning and right-leaning content were coded as “other,” including entertainment outlets, satire websites, and other sources for which we were unable to determine a consistent ideology.
We also analyzed whether the 225 pieces of content were about trans people competing in sports and/or medical care for trans people.
Right-leaning sources earned significantly more Facebook interactions than all other sources when discussing trans topics
The analysis found that right-leaning sources earned significantly more Facebook interactions on trans-related content when compared to content from other sources. In total, the 225 total pieces of content earned nearly 66 million interactions, and right-leaning outlets earned more than 43.3 million of those -- more than four times as many interactions as any other ideological category.
Of the nearly 66 million total interactions earned across all 225 pieces of content:
- Content from right-leaning sources earned a total of over 43.33 million interactions, or 65.7% of all interactions.
- In comparison, content from nonaligned sources earned a total of nearly 6.87 million interactions, or 10.4% of all interactions.
- Content from left-leaning sources earned a total of nearly 2.56 million interactions, or 3.9% of all interactions.
- Content from queer sources earned a total of over 10.13 million interactions, or 15.4% of all interactions.
- Combined, content from queer and left-leaning sources earned a total of nearly 12.69 million interactions, or 19.2% of all interactions.
- Content from “other” sources earned a total of over 3.03 million interactions, or 4.6% of all interactions.
More than half of top-engaged Facebook content about trans issues was from right-leaning sources
Content about trans topics from right-leaning sources earned more than 100,000 interactions more frequently than all other types of source combined; those sources published 126, or 56%, of the 225 total pieces of content analyzed.
Of the 225 pieces of content analyzed:
- 126 pieces, or 56%, were from right-leaning sources.
- In contrast, 52, or 23.1%, were from left-leaning or queer sources -- specifically, 38 (16.9%) were from queer sources and 14 (6.2%) were from left-leaning sources.
- 30, or 13.3%, were from nonaligned sources.
- 17, or 7.6%, were from other sources.
Right-leaning outlets published some of the highest-performing trans-related content
Right-leaning outlets produced a large percentage of the content earning the highest engagement. Every single one of the top five pieces of content was from right-leaning sources, and those five pieces of content alone earned a total of more than 10.83 million interactions. Content from right-leaning sources also made up nine of the top 10 and 14 of the top 20 pieces in terms of engagement.
Of the top 20 pieces of content analyzed:
- The content with the highest engagement, at over 2.77 million interactions, was a blog from extreme anti-LGBTQ legal group ADF about its clients who seek to prevent trans athletes from competing.
- An article from extreme anti-LGBTQ group American Family Association’s (AFA) outlet OneNewsNow was the fifth highest performing piece of content and earned over 1.37 million interactions.
- Nine of the top 10 pieces of content were from right-leaning sources.
- Fourteen of the top 20 pieces of content were from right-leaning sources, which earned a combined total of nearly 18.99 million interactions; those 14 accounted for 28.8% of all interactions across all 225 pieces of content.
- Comparatively, the other six of the top 20 pieces of content earned nearly 4.76 million interactions, or 7.2% of all interactions. One of those six, coded as nonaligned, was an op-ed in USA Today by a conservative commentator.
Anti-LGBTQ outlets The Daily Wire and LifeSiteNews earned the highest engagement on content about trans people
Media Matters’ analysis found that trans-related content from right-wing outlets The Daily Wire and LifeSiteNews outperformed all other sources when discussing trans topics. The Daily Wire published 25 of the 225 pieces of content earning more than 100,000 interactions, and LifeSiteNews and its petition website published 16. The Daily Wire earned more than 5.6 million interactions on that content, and LifeSiteNews earned more than 8.8 million interactions on its own.
Of the 225 pieces of content analyzed:
The Daily Wire published 25 pieces of content, which accounted for 11.1% of all content. That content earned a combined total of nearly 5.61 million interactions on Facebook, or 8.5% of the total interactions.
LifeSiteNews produced 16 pieces of content, including one petition from its sister site LifePetitions, which accounted for 7.1% of all content. That content earned a combined total of more than 8.84 million interactions, or 13.4% of the total interactions.
Three other right-leaning sources earned more total interactions than any other type of outlet:
The Western Journal produced 13 pieces of content that earned a total of nearly 2.9 million interactions, or 4.4% of the total interactions.
The Daily Caller produced seven pieces that earned a total of over 4 million interactions, or 6.2% of the total interactions.
Though it published only one piece of content meeting our criteria, ADF earned nearly 2.8 million interactions on that piece.
Notably, queer outlets were the only sources that were not right-leaning to be in the top 10 sources:
PinkNews published 10 pieces of content that earned a total of over 2.18 million interactions, or 3.3% of all interactions.
Gay Star News produced five pieces that earned a total of over 2.43 million interactions, or 3.7% of the total interactions.
NBC Out published six pieces that earned a total of nearly 1.66 million interactions, or 2.5% of the total interactions.
ADF and The Daily Caller each produced a single piece of content that earned more interactions than any of the queer outlets.
The Daily Wire is a right-wing website that regularly promotes anti-LGBTQ, racist, sexist, and anti-abortion rhetoric. The site has several anti-LGBTQ pundits with large media platforms, including Matt Walsh, Michael Knowles, and Ben Shapiro, the site’s founder. According to a Popular Information investigation, The Daily Wire operates a “clandestine network of 14 large Facebook pages that purport to be independent but exclusively promote content from The Daily Wire in a coordinated fashion. … This kind of ‘inauthentic coordinated behavior’ violates Facebook's rules.”
LifeSiteNews is a right-wing evangelical media publication that is explictly anti-abortion and regularly produces anti-LGBTQ content. It also has a network of Facebook profiles, including its LifeSiteNews.com page, We Can Defend Marriage, and We Can End Abortion.
The Daily Wire and LifeSiteNews routinely push hateful rhetoric and play an influential role in making anti-LGBTQ content go viral. Media Matters has documented how The Daily Wire leverages its social media network to scaremonger about trans athletes, and how both outlets have used Facebook to spread dangerous misinformation and fearmonger about best practice medical care for trans youth.
The fact that queer outlets were the only outlets outside of right-leaning sources to break into the top 10 sources is particularly resonant coming at a time when dedicated LGBTQ outlets have been folding and losing resources.
Content from right-leaning sources about trans athletes earned high engagement on Facebook
Right-leaning sources consistently targeted trans athletes and scaremongered about their participation in sports, and the topic was one of the trans-related narratives with the most interactions.
Right-leaning outlets published 53 pieces of content about trans athletes, making up 23.6% of all content analyzed. In particular, 19 stories were about anti-trans clients represented by extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). ADF is representing cisgender high school track athletes who seek to prevent trans athletes from competing alongside them. The group and its clients are often sympathetically portrayed in right-leaning outlets, and one of its lawyers and clients have appeared on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight and The Ingraham Angle to fearmonger about trans athletes.
Of the 225 pieces of content analyzed:
- 58 pieces were about trans athletes, accounting for about 25.8% of all content, and they earned a total of nearly 22.58 million interactions.
- 53 pieces about trans athletes were from right-leaning sources, accounting for 23.6% of all content analyzed.
- Content about trans athletes from right-leaning sources earned a total of just under 21.21 million interactions, or 32.2% of all interactions on top trans-related content.
- At least 19 pieces discussed ADF’s cisgender athlete clients, 17 of which were from right-leaning outlets.
- The highest-performing content was a blog post from ADF about its athlete clients that earned over 2.77 million interactions and called for readers to sign its petition.
This high-performing content from right-leaning sources frequently misgendered trans athletes, a form of harassment involving labeling someone “as a gender other than one that a person identifies with.” In 2018, Twitter banned the practice as part of its "hateful conduct” policy in order to protect users from harassment.
Trans athletes experience targeted harassment online, including on Twitter. They have reported receiving death threats, “harsh” backlash," and even attacks on their looks and accusations that they are “masquerading as a girl to win races.”
Trans athletes have also been used as a wedge issue to urge opposition to policies that protect LGBTQ people and even cisgender women from discrimination. Anti-LGBTQ outlets and groups have cited trans athletes as a reason to oppose the Equality Act and the Equal Rights Amendment, and also used them in their arguments that protections from sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights act of 1964 should not include LGBTQ people.
The right often targets trans athletes while diverting attention from other critical issues like anti-trans violence and equal access to housing and employment, dangerously suggesting that trans athletes are a threat to the safety of cisgender women. This tactic and framing have also been used to advocate against trans people using restrooms that align with their gender identity, with opponents saying that anti-trans “bathroom bills” are meant to protect the privacy and safety of women. In fact, this rhetoric puts trans folks at risk for simply using the bathroom; National Center for Transgender Equality reported in 2015 that about 60% of trans people avoided using public restrooms that year out of fear of being harassed or attacked.
Furthermore, right-leaning sources have directly influenced public policy. For example, in Idaho, right-wing narratives about trans athletes laid the groundwork for the state to pass a first-in-the-nation bill that prevents trans athletes from competing.
Content from right-leaning sources about medical care for trans people also earned high engagement
Content about medical care for trans people, particularly trans youth, also earned high engagement, primarily by right-leaning sources. Content from those sources, which generally advocated against and spread misinformation about best-practice medical care, made up 12% of all content.
Of the 225 pieces of content analyzed:
- 33 pieces, or 14.7% of all content, were about medical care for trans folks, which earned a total of over 10.33 million interactions.
- 27 of those, or 12% of all content, were from right-leaning sources. This content earned a total of 8.31 million Facebook interactions.
- At least 19 pieces of content -- earning a total of over 4.41 million interactions -- mentioned a Texas custody battle involving a transgender child; right-leaning sources published all of these
Right-leaning sources falsely portrayed best-practice medical care as dangerous and worked to scare parents from affirming their children. Washington Examiner lied that best-practice medical care for trans youth is “chemical castration,” and PJ Media falsely equated it to “child abuse.” Other content targeted and misinformed about drugs used to delay puberty, which are viewed as safe, effective, and life-saving by medical professionals. In one notable instance, LifeSiteNews and The Daily Wire, among other outlets, earned more than 160,000 Facebook interactions on a slew of stories that falsely suggested that puberty-blocking drugs could be deadly for trans teens.
Furthermore, right-leaning sources published 19 pieces of content that each earned more than 100,000 interactions about a Texas custody battle involving a trans kid. The custody battle, which right-wing media outlets dubiously framed as a debate over medical interventions for minors, involves a father who does not accept his trans child's gender identity and who sought joint custody with the child's affirming mother. After right-wing outlets spent months sensationalizing the case, the state of Texas intervened and launched an investigation into the mother, who “faced threats, harassment, and vandalism” and was “viciously attacked and threatened by complete strangers.”
Misinformation about best-practice medical care for trans youth is particularly dangerous, as it could result in parents denying their children critical care or rejecting their identities, which can harm trans kids’ physical and mental well-being. In fact, research and personal narratives have demonstrated that affirming care is the best practice for many trans folks, and the American Academy of Pediatrics issued an official policy statement in 2018 encouraging parents and medical providers to affirm trans youth. Doing so has been shown to reduce their risk of experiencing depression, homelessness, and suicidal ideation. Nevertheless, several states have introduced bills to deny best practice medical care for trans youth after anti-LGBTQ media and groups obsessively misinformed about the topic.
Media Matters compiled and reviewed data, including total interactions (reactions, comments, and shares) on Facebook, for 225 pieces of trans-related online content that were primarily English-language, were published between February 15, 2019, and February 15, 2020, and earned over 100,000 interactions on Facebook.
To compile this content, we used the social media analytics website BuzzSumo to complete a search for all trans-related content with over 100,000 interactions on Facebook that was published during above the time period using the following keywords: trans, transgender, transgenders, transphobic, transphobe, transgenderism, transitioning, transition, transitions, “locker room,” bathroom, bathrooms, restroom, restrooms, “gender identity,” “biological male,” “biological man,” “biological woman,” “biological female,” “women’s sports,” “girls’ sports,” “biological women,” or “biological men.” This search resulted in 180 pieces of content.
Media Matters also compiled and reviewed additional trans-related online content that fit the same criteria and was shared in Facebook posts that earned over 10,000 interactions between February 15, 2019, and February 15, 2020. Facebook posts with trans-related content were defined as including at least one of the keywords in the post linking to the content or in the linked content’s headline, link, or lede. From these posts, an additional 176 pieces of content were identified. We removed any content in the compiled list that did not have trans-related issues as the stated topic of the piece or that included trans issues only in a passing mention but focused on another topic.
The resulting 225 pieces of content were independently coded by two researchers and reconciled by a third researcher for the following: date, author, outlet, and ideological alignment of the outlet, including right-leaning, left-leaning, nonaligned, “other,” or whether the source was described in its name or “About” as a queer or LGBTQ media outlet. Pieces of content were also coded for specific topics of discussion, including if the stated topic, lede, or headline was about transgender people competing in sports or medical care for trans people.
The ideological alignment of U.S.-based outlets was determined by the outlet’s name, information in the “About” section, and published content. Outlets that expressed opposition to President Donald Trump or focused on issues primarily aimed at liberals (e.g., protecting abortion rights, calling for action against gun violence, etc.) were coded as left-leaning. Outlets that expressed support for Trump or focused on issues primarily aimed at conservatives (e.g., restricting abortion rights, downplaying gun violence, etc.) were coded as right-leaning. If an outlet was a queer or LGBTQ media outlet, then ideological alignment was not coded.
U.S.-based and other English-language outlets that did not have an ideological leaning were coded as nonaligned. Outlets were coded as “other” if they did not fit in any of the above categories or contained a mix of left-leaning and right-leaning content. This also included entertainment outlets and satire websites.
U.K. tabloids were coded for ideological alignment based on their stated political leaning and political endorsements; those that did not have explicit information on these were coded as “other.”
All engagement data was collected during or before March 2020.