Meta urged to make platforms safer for LGBTQ users in the Middle East, North Africa

The parent company of Facebook and Instagram is facing calls to improve the safety of LGBTQ people on its platforms in the Middle East and North Africa.

Human Rights Watch, Social Media Exchange (SMEX), INSM Foundation for Digital Rights, Helem in Lebanon and Damj Association in Tunisia have initiated the #SecureOurSocials campaign, which emphasizes the need for transparency from Meta.

The campaign, inspired by Human Rights Watch’s “Digital Targeting and Its Offline Consequences for LGBT People in the Middle East and North Africa” 2023 report, sheds light on the digital threats faced by the LGBTQ community. The report revealed that security forces in countries like Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia exploit platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to target and harass LGBTQ people, leading to offline consequences like arbitrary detention and torture.

Rasha Younes, acting LGBT rights deputy director at Human Rights Watch, urged Meta to be a global leader in making social media safe for everyone. The #SecureOurSocials campaign aims to engage Meta for increased transparency and accountability, urging the company to publish meaningful data on user safety investment, especially in the Middle East and North Africa.

LGBTQ people that Human Rights Watch interviewed reported severe real-life consequences; including job loss, family violence, forced relocations and mental health issues due to online targeting on Facebook and Instagram. The campaign calls on Meta to address harmful content, be more responsive to user complaints and enforce policies consistently.

The main goals of the #SecureOurSocials campaign include: 

• Protecting the safety of users

• Addressing online targeting

• Consistent enforcement of policies

• Investment in user safety

• Human rights integration 

“Governments and tech companies share the responsibility for protecting human rights, especially for LGBT individuals.”said Younes. 

Despite previous engagements with Meta, concerns raised by Human Rights Watch said its concerns have not been adequately addressed. 

The #SecureOurSocials campaign provides solutions for Meta to ensure the safety of LGBTQ users and urges the company to disclose its annual investment in user safety in the region. It also emphasizes the responsibility of social media companies to respect human rights with nondiscrimination and privacy policies and freedom of expression.

Mohamad Najem of SMEX outlined key recommendations directed at Meta, addressing the urgent need to safeguard user rights, particularly for the LGBTQ community. 

Najem underscored the importance of including rights, nondiscrimination and privacy policies and freedom of expression in Meta’s policies. He called for measures to avoid infringing on human rights, systematic handling of issues and the identification and addressing of human rights impacts stemming from their services. 

The recommendations further urged Meta to respect the right to freedom of expression, protect against unauthorized access to personal data and consider the specific experiences of discrimination and marginalization, particularly those faced by LGBTQ people in the Middle East and North Africa. 

“Meta needs to ensure that it respects the rights of people, especially when it comes to unauthorized access to their personal data,” added Najem.

Najem highlighted Meta’s struggles with content moderation, pointing out overenforcement and underenforcement issues. The insufficient investment in human content moderators and heavy reliance on automation were identified as undermining Meta’s ability to effectively address content targeting LGBTQ individuals.

Meta’s role in mitigating human rights abuses against LGBTQ individuals on its platforms is highlighted, with the campaign demanding accountability and transparency in policy application. Governments in the Middle East and North Africa are also urged to respect and protect the rights of LGBTQ people, promoting non-discriminatory laws online and offline.

A Meta spokesperson has not responded to the Washington Blade’s request for comment.