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Facebook Is Outing LGBT Kids and It Has to Stop

Facebook Is Outing LGBT Kids and It Has to Stop

Facebook is a lot of things to a lot of people: a way to connect with friends and family members, a social gaming platform, a way to reach out to people, or even a marketing tool. What it should never be is a service that inadvertently ”outs” its LGBT users, but that’s precisely what has happened and, it would seem, keeps happening.

The Wall Street Journal reports on a case where two University of Texas students, who are members of the university’s Queer Chorus, were outed to their parents when the leader of the university music group added the two students to the Queer Chorus Facebook group.

Even though both students had enabled Facebook’s security settings to prevent their parents from seeing certain content, a clumsy facet of the group add feature meant that not only could someone add them to a group they had not elected to join, the group’s news was then posted to their Facebook walls, in turn revealing their membership to their friends and family.

How did this happen? You can find a breakdown of the peculiar group add feature’s behavior here.

Like many LGBT kids who use college to begin to explore their identities outside of their possibly restrictive home environments, those kids were not yet out to their parents. For one of them, it was incredibly hurtful. Her father reportedly left angry phone messages and threatened to end their relationship unless she renounced being a lesbian.

In fact, her father reportedly went so far as to write on his Facebook page, “To all you queers. Go back to your holes and wait for GOD. Hell awaits you pervert. Good luck singing there.”

The male student who was also outed in this incident has said his father didn’t speak to him for weeks.

A Facebook representative is quoted as saying, ”Our hearts go out to these young people. Their unfortunate experience reminds us that we must continue our work to empower and educate users about our robust privacy controls.”

Were this an isolated incident the assurance might perhaps be more mollifying. However, it is not.

As all Facebook users know, Facebook runs targeted ads as part of its social media service. These ads are tailored to specifically appeal to the user in question via information that Facebook harvests from your preferences. For most who elect to join the social media service, and therein consent to all that comes with having a Facebook account, this likely isn’t a problem.

However, the manner in which Facebook harvests and then applies its insights means that gay teenagers have in the past been put in the difficult position of having to answer questions as to why adverts targeted at the gay community are appearing on their Facebook profile. This led one teen in London, England, who had reportedly attempted to get rid of the ads, to be outed and then kicked out of his home.

A study published in 2010 even warned of the potential concerns this targeted ad mechanism could produce.

It would be easy to say that if you have something to hide, if you’re not “out” for instance, you should not use Facebook. However, this ignores the vital role Facebook and other social media sites might play for closeted and repressed youths. It is also a callous and unrealistic attitude in a world where social media is stitched into the fabric of our interactions.

It certainly is not as simple as casting Facebook in the role of a mustache twiddling villain either. After all, other online sites have suffered similar issues and, as mentioned previously, Facebook provides many avenues for LGBT teenagers to connect with communities to which they might not otherwise have had access.

It is also prudent not to overlook the anti-gay feeling the above mentioned parents carry that makes this, in the very first instance, such a troubling issue.

It does make clear, however, that Facebook and other social sites simply must do better in considering the potential privacy issues and the overall privacy needs of a community for whom being outed literally could endanger their lives and livelihoods.

It also serves as a reminder that we as a social media-using community must do everything we can to educate ourselves on exactly what using social media means in terms of the information we give away about ourselves and, also, the information we may inadvertently share.

Related Reading:

Facebook Bans Puppy Mill Ads

Facebook Tells You Who’s Been Looking At Group Pages

About the @facebook.com Email You Didn’t Know You Had

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Image credit: Thinkstock.

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143 comments

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1:09PM PDT on Nov 1, 2012

I am on FB but I don't really use is except to see my 2 sons pages

9:40AM PDT on Oct 31, 2012

"Robust privacy controls?!" HORSE HOCKEY!

3:08PM PDT on Oct 28, 2012

If you want privacy dont join Facebook - how hard can it be?

1:58PM PDT on Oct 28, 2012

These young adults have the right to wait for the right time to tell their family and friends about their sexual preferences in their OWN time. If they choose to tell them at all. It isn't your secret? Don't tell it.

10:17AM PDT on Oct 28, 2012

The real problem with Facebook is that they change the settings, rules and useage every two months or so. It's har do keep up. As for the adding feature: Several celebs have been added to groups with racist, sexist and homophobic content without any of them agreeing to it. When informed about these actions, they have rushed to delete their names on those groups, but the damage have been done. Also, there are so many ways to repost messages and download pictures, and use stuff against the users it's impossible to keep up with them all. Thanks Zuckerberg! The best way to use Facebook (if you have too) is to set everything to private, only allow friendships with people you truly know and trust and not post any personal information like pictures, names, addresses, etc. And then set up a second account where you can stay in touch with others, like family in case you're in the closet.

9:45AM PDT on Oct 26, 2012

Privacy has become something that we have to work extremely hard to maintain. It like living in a very small town where everyone knows everyone else's business.

7:12PM PDT on Oct 25, 2012

Isn't this an argument for google + and its circles? Why don't gays interested in privacy ditch facebook en masse?

1:03PM PDT on Oct 25, 2012

There is no such thing as privacy anymore, particularly if you are using Internet sites. It seems most of the comments on this are negative ones directed at the parents, the leader of the University Queer Choir and Facebook, but what about the University "kids" own responsibilities (not that they are underaged kids by any means).
No one has asked: Does one really have to be be "queer" (such a loose descriptive word) to join the choir or can anyone join?

If they didn't want their family and friends to know about their sexuality, why join the choir.....what were they going to do when they had a performance to attend....wear masks?

If you don't want anyone to know your private life, keep it private, behind closed doors, until you are willing to accept yourself for what you are and share it with family and friends.

Otherwise you are not helping the Gay and LGBT movement by your own fear, living in the shadows and complaining that the world isn't fair, stand up for who you are.

6:32PM PDT on Oct 24, 2012

I'll hereby pledge to never, ever be a member of this %$#&@ social media platform!

2:18AM PDT on Oct 24, 2012

As with a lot of complaints against social networking generally, the problem here isn't with Facebook itself but with the way people use it + the way people react to what they read there.
The only characters in the story who are really at fault are the parents who went round the bend upon hearing their kids were gay; Perhaps whoever added them to the group could have been a bit more sensitive + acknowledged that not everyone wants the world to know their preferences, the victims themselves could have been more careful about who they added + had a better look at their privacy settings, or Facebook could have foreseen this sort of thing happening - but really, the enemy is homopobia.

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