Monday, January 21, 2013

Tracking Homophobic Speech on Twitter

Despite a continual slate of PSA's about homophobia and the effect of homophobic language, it is still very much a part of our society and our discourse.  Each time a slur is said, it affirms that members of the GLBT people are deemed 'other.'  In a verbal interaction, nothing has the ability to display privilege like the uttering of a slur.  It is violent and meant to wound, even in cases where the speaker believes that their intent is innocent.  I don't believe that anyone can reasonably argue that they didn't know a slur is bad, given the work that marginalized communities have done to make clear the harm that is done.

To that end, NoHomophobes.com was created to show the casual usage of the words, f@ggot, d@ke, no homo, and that's so gay on Twitter. To a large degree, the anonymity of the internet, means that people feel less social pressure to conform when they interact and thus, at times say things that they would never dream of saying in a more public manner.  I do however believe that this gives us a greater snapshot into what people think and believe when the filters are removed.  The following is  look at the numbers between July 5th 2012, and January 20, 2013.


What stunned me about these figures is that f@ggot alone is in the millions and the site has not even been tracking for a year.  How much larger would this figure be if it tracked other social sites like Facebook, or Youtube? 


No slur is ever benign, though from the numbers, it's clearly treated as such.  There is no aspect of life that goes untouched when you face a marginalization.  Homophobia is a life and death issue and the high rate of teen suicide in the GLBT community, along with incidents of bullying, should be screaming at us to stop and demand others around us to stop as well.

Conservatives would say that I am pushing a gay agenda but what I am pushing in actuality is a human agenda. When homophobia is allowed to go unchecked, not only do we devalue the humanity of members of the GLBT community but all others as well.  To hate with this kind of careless abandon, makes humanity little better than animals.

When I see figures like above, I know that this is why we have to keep fighting for schools to actively teach BLGT history and for parents to talk to their kids about bullying and homophobia.  This continues because we as a society have no problem with casual hate and because we are so damned invested in privilege and power, that we don't have the decency to teach our children that each person, regardless of marginalization has value.

Figures like this tell straight, cisgender people that we need to speak up every damn time someone uses gay as a pejorative and every damn time someone says a slur. It's always going to be acceptable, until we demand change and make it known that such language will not be tolerated. 

 On a final note, as much as I support NoHomophobe.com I have to point out the following from their website:
We no longer tolerate racist language, we’re getting better at dealing with sexist language, but sadly we’re still not actively addressing homophobic and transphobic language in our society.
I understand the need to make sure that people start addressing casual homophobia, but as a woman of colour, I can assure you that we still very much tolerate racist, as well as sexist language. People may shy away from saying the N Word casually, but this has only led to coded language, which has become prevalent and even more difficult for many to understand as racist.  Oppression Olympics has been a consistent problem with social justice movements.  You don't have to prove that you have the worst oppression ever, to state unequivocally that what you are experiencing is damaging to the soul.  In some ways, the above statement undermines the work being done by NoHomophobe.com.  It's not just homophobic hate speech that needs to end but all speech which marks members of marginalized people as other.  The lesson that we should take away from this tracking system is that we all have a responsibility to speak out when we hear hate speech.

Regardless of who is being targeted by hate speech, it is a common occurrence and it needs to end.  Language frames our discourse and as we all know, it's not a far leap from verbally devaluing the humanity of a group, to believing that society has a right to violently target them.  That is what is at stake when we allow hate speech to go unchallenged.