These last months of 2018 have seen digital queer spaces being constantly challenged.
Many LGBTI users believe mainstream social media are failing them. Therefore they deem these digital spaces inadequate to provide a safe space for the community.
This sense of mistrust in traditional social media follows recent incidents involving platforms such as Facebook, Tumblr, and Grindr.
What happened to self-expression in digital milieux?
Facebook has released a new set of community guidelines centred around ‘sexual solicitation’ that might specifically harm LGBTI users. They will not be able to discuss their sexuality nor post any content deemed sexually explicit.
Banned content includes mentioning ‘sexual preference/sexual partner preference’ and ‘commonly sexualized areas of the body such as the breasts, groin or buttocks’. Moreover, these standards will apply to all of the companies Facebook owns, including Instagram and Facebook Messenger.
The news came a few days after Tumblr, another platform popular with LGBTI users, announced its adult content ban.
Ahead of the overhaul of its services on 17 December, the company owned by Yahoo has shared a message with its users.
All adult content and female-presenting nipples are out, but there is still some explicit imagery that users can post.
Similar regulations will take away spaces for LGBTI users. They will also reinforce the narrative connecting LGBTI identities with harmful sexual content.
Tumblr clarified that it will remain a space for the LGBTI community and other marginalized groups to explore their sexuality, but how?
The Grindr paradox
As for Grindr, the dating app for gay and bi men is still under fire after its own LGBTI-focused publication INTO tweeted an article on 29 November, writing its president Scott Chen ‘does not support same-sex marriage, according to deleted social post’.
Chen derided his reporter for failing to reach out to him for comment before publishing the story. He then addressed the comment about marriage between a man and a woman. Chen explained the comment was ‘based on my own personal experience’ as a straight man married to a woman.
Users, however, weren’t happy with the apologies.
While traditional social media need to up their game in order to regain their users’ trust, many are calling for queer digital havens for the LGBTI community.
Where can queer people socialize?
Ever since these changes, users took to Twitter to voice their outrage. However, the 140-characters-turned-280 messages seem to be great for expressing their own views, yet not as great for socializing.
Not to mention, there are fewer physical queer spaces. Many LGBTI clubs are struggling to survive, thinning the number of hotspots for gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people.
‘The places where we used to be free to be ourselves are changing,’ says Rob Curtis, creator of SQUAD SOCIAL. It is a passion project to help those looking for friendships and a sense belonging in the LGBTI community.
‘Whether it’s Facebook limiting discussion around sexuality or Tumblr removing the spaces queer people express themselves, it’s time for us to start building digital communities that reflect the diversity of our own community.’
SQUAD SOCIAL is a new app that’s planned to be launched in early 2019 to help LGBTI people and allies to connect in ways mainstream platforms can’t. The app, soon to be available in London, aims to create queer friendships based on mutual interests.
They are looking for beta testers and community leaders to come on board and join this ambitious yet long-overdue project.