Update (7/22/22): After publication of this piece, a Twitter spokesperson provided a statement to the Daily Dot stating that the targeted use of “groomer” as a slur against another user “based on their perceived membership in a protected category” violates the platform’s hate speech policies. They further identified its use “in context of discussion of gender identity” as prohibited under Twitter’s Hateful Conduct policy.
Update (7/21/22): After publication of this piece, a Reddit spokesperson confirmed to Media Matters that blanket accusations of “grooming” against the LGBTQ community violate existing Reddit policies and explained that there has been no change in the platform’s policies or enforcement, saying: “Reddit is a place for creating community and belonging. In line with this, our Content Policy prohibits content that promotes hate based on identity or vulnerability, including gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation. We regularly reach out to the communities on our platform to remind them of our policies and offer support, and we will continue to enforce our policies across the platform."
Update (7/20/22): After publication of this piece, Reddit, TikTok, and Meta – parent company of Facebook and Instagram – confirmed to Claire Goforth of the Daily Dot that “baselessly calling LGBTQ people or the community ‘groomers’ or accusing them of ‘grooming’ is governed under their policies prohibiting hate speech.”
On July 12, a teacher in Texas reportedly awakened to the sound of someone shooting at her yard. Leading up to the attack, she had been falsely accused of “grooming” by conservatives on social media for handing out “books with LGBTQ characters” at a local Pride event.
This is one of the latest violent acts resulting from a right-wing smear campaign on social media that has driven nationwide harassment and violence against members of the LGBTQ community and their allies. In the face of this targeted hate campaign, Twitter has failed to act to protect its users. The platform continues to allow content promoting the offensive and flagrantly false accusation that LGBTQ people are attempting to sexually exploit children — a conspiracy theory with deeply rooted anti-gay and anti-trans origins — to spread unchecked.
At least one major social media platform has already taken steps to address this, with moderators on Reddit signaling that the site would begin enforcing a ban on the “groomer” smear, saying it violates their policy on hate speech against LGBTQ people. In response to the news of Reddit banning the term being used to attack the LGBTQ community, right-wing media figures like Steven Crowder erroneously accused the platform of making “groomers a protected class,” with the term “groomers” trending on Twitter on July 18.
Twitter has played a central role in allowing accusations of “grooming” to move from dark corners of the internet back into mainstream political discourse, and the company needs to act now. GLAAD recently released its annual Social Media Safety Index report, which highlighted the failure of Twitter and other platforms to properly identify targeted harassment.
What social media companies define as "hate" is insufficient. An enormous amount of the anti-LGBTQ disinformation circulating amidst our current culture wars is indeed, quite simply, hate. Much of this material should rightly be evaluated against current existing policies for hate and harassment and dehumanizing speech, with corresponding enforcement. In the same way that these companies prohibit lies about COVID, the posting of inaccurate voting information, denial of the Holocaust — the intentional posting of patently false disinformation intended as a targeted attack on LGBTQ people (and other historically marginalized groups) must be mitigated.
Twitter already has a policy against hateful conduct that prohibits “targeting others with repeated slurs, tropes or other content that intends to dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes about a protected category,” including sexual orientation and gender identity. Considering the grim history of false accusations that LGBTQ people are exploiting minors, the targeted use of the term “grooming” should certainly qualify.
Verified twitter users with millions of combined followers are spreading the “groomer” smear
Social media platforms have to weigh many important considerations when enforcing their content policies, and excessive content moderation has the potential to be as much a threat to LGBTQ users as the hateful content it seeks to root out, as Fight for the Future’s Evan Greer recently highlighted. That is why an essential first step to addressing the use of the “groomer” smear would be to enforce existing policy on hateful conduct for those accounts with large followings and a history of perpetuating baseless “groomer” rhetoric. Much of this rhetoric has originated from a few influential accounts.
James Lindsay is a far-right author who has been instrumental in pushing alarmism over “critical race theory” and the trans community. As Harvard Law School’s Alejandra Caraballo detailed, Lindsay started to use the “groomer” smear repeatedly in February, often quoting other Twitter users and labeling them “groomers.” His targets were often teachers, schools, authors, and anyone who expressed support for LGBTQ inclusion. Here are just a few of the dozens of examples:
Lindsay has continued to push this narrative. Last month he directed the slur at a library in Nevada. Three days later, the library was targeted by members of the violent right-wing gang Proud Boys brandishing signs accusing the librarians of “grooming.” Just this month he labeled Disney “super groomers,” targeted a suicide hotline for LGBTQ youth with the smear, claimed a school’s Gay Straight Alliance club was a “groomer tool,” and falsely accused the parent of a trans child — who was forced to flee their home state over anti-trans persecution — a “groomer.”
Chaya Raichik and “Libs of TikTok”
Chaya Raichik, who goes by the Twitter handle “Libs of TikTok,” has used her sizable following on Twitter to target hundreds of teachers and schools for supporting LGBTQ students. As previously reported by Media Matters, Raichik also seemingly helped to inspire the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric of Christina Pushaw, the press secretary for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis whose attempts to label Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law as the “anti-grooming bill” further contributed to the spread of the “grooming” smear on Twitter. Raichik, who has since adopted the term as part of her campaign to vilify LGBTQ educational professionals, is directly profiting from the smear, promoting on Twitter the coupon code “GROOMERS” for her online store. Here are other examples of her pushing the term on the platform:
Jaimee Michell and “Gays Against Groomers”
Jaimee Michell, who goes by the Twitter handle “Gays Against Groomers,” started her account in June and has already amassed more than 42,000 followers by sharing anti-LGBTQ rhetoric similar to Raichik’s hateful content. Michell, who previously operated under the social media handle “The Gay Who Strayed,” has a history of promoting anti-Islamic and white nationalist rhetoric, and she has done design work for far-right figures including “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec.
Michell often uses the hashtag “#GaysAgainstGroomers” to help spread her anti-LGBTQ content on Twitter. Following increased scrutiny of “grooming” rhetoric on social media, Michell denied the term was an anti-LGBTQ slur despite consistently using it to attack LGBTQ people and their allies, including comparing gender-affirming care to sexualizing children. Here are a few examples of her using Twitter to push this same bigoted rhetoric:
As violence and harassment against the LGBTQ community escalates, Twitter has a responsibility to address the smear campaign its platform helped create
Not only has Twitter allowed these false and offensive claims of “grooming” to proliferate on its watch, the platform functioned as a genesis point for the aspersion, facilitating its spread into the broader right-wing media ecosystem. The escalating violence during Pride Month this year further highlights the need for Twitter to provide for closer moderation of this specific targeted rhetoric — especially considering the central role the platform has played in the anti-LGBTQ smear campaign driving these attacks.