A report released by Media Matters for America, the media watchdog group, on Tuesday, criticizes Instagram, for its alleged failure to effectively moderate content posted by the controversial anti-trans organization Gays Against Groomers.
The report, which The Advocate is reporting exclusively, highlights a series of instances where Gays Against Groomers is accused of spreading harmful rhetoric about LGBTQ+ people on the platform, clearly violating Instagram’s community guidelines against hate speech, harassment, and misinformation.
One of the primary concerns raised by the report is the apparent inconsistency in Instagram’s enforcement of these content policies. While other prominent platforms, including PayPal and Google, have taken decisive action to ban Gays Against Groomers for alleged violations of their content guidelines, Instagram, which is owned by Meta, has allowed the group’s content to remain accessible for over a year, according to Media Matters.
This discrepancy has led to widespread questioning of Instagram’s commitment to effectively moderating harmful content, particularly content that targets marginalized communities. Gays Against Groomers has been labeled an extremist hate group by the Anti-Defamation League.
The report points out that Gays Against Groomers has faced multiple suspensions from the platform formerly known as Twitter, X, including at least one suspension for using the derogatory anti-LGBTQ+ “groomer” slur. The contrast between platforms raises questions about Instagram’s relative leniency in dealing with content violations, especially compared to sites that have taken more aggressive measures.
Gays Against Groomers Violates Instagram Terms
Gays Against Groomers has leveraged Instagram as one of its primary platforms, amassing over 357,000 followers since its creation in June 2022. The group has also joined Threads, Meta’s Twitter-like platform, where it has continued to post content criticized as hateful and false about LGBTQ+ people, according to the report.
The Instagram community guidelines emphasize the platform’s commitment to fostering a diverse and positive community. Expressly, these guidelines prohibit content that contains credible threats or hate speech, especially attacks on sex, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
Instagram’s rules also direct users to Facebook’s hate speech policy, which prohibits content targeting people or groups based on their sexual orientation, gender, or sex.
The Media Matters report documents Gays Against Groomers’ alleged repeated use of derogatory terms like “groomers" and their dissemination of false narratives about the LGBTQ+ community. The accusations range from claims that LGBTQ+ people are actively “grooming” children to promoting harmful stereotypes. Some of the group’s posts also target companies and individuals publicly supporting LGBTQ+ rights.
Gays Against Groomers has repeatedly employed derogatory rhetoric, referring to the LGBTQ+ community as “groomers” and alleging that they are actively involved in nefarious activity with kids. These claims have raised concerns and sparked widespread outrage within the LGBTQ+ community and their allies.
Meta, however, seemingly has done little to curb this.
“It’s an age-old problem that we’ve seen with Meta,” Media Matters research director Kayla Gogarty told The Advocate. “One of my biggest concerns is that they’re seeing Elon Musk’s kind of backsliding on enforcement and things like that [and] they’re seeing that almost as a permission structure for them to also backslide.”
After Musk acquired Twitter in October last year, he promptly fired much of the platform’s trust and safety team, responsible for content moderation. Since then, Musk has removed safeguards that protect transgender people and even wrote that he considered the word “cisgender” as a slur on his social media site.
Gays Against Groomers Employs “Groomer” Libel
Meanwhile, on April 28, Gays Against Groomers posted on Instagram, asserting that LGBTQ+ people “are actively grooming kids into the Rainbow Cult,” seemingly citing a report that indicated “1 in 4 high school students identifies as LGBTQ.”
The group implied that this statistic resulted from LGBTQ+ individuals “grooming” children.
Further, the organization shared a TikTok video depicting children celebrating LGBTQ+ Pride, labeling it an “indoctrination ceremony.”
The caption on the post claimed that “Indoctrinated kids are groomed kids.”
The group’s rhetoric didn’t stop there. They also criticized a clip from Sesame Street celebrating Pride, accusing it of “grooming children for sexual orientation and sexual preference.” The caption characterized the video as “teaching toddlers about sex” and “grooming, point blank.”
Gays Against Groomers attacked Target for promoting LGBTQ+ clothing and products aimed at children, even calling for a boycott of the retail giant. The group replaced the Target sign with the word “groomers” in an image, claiming they would “no longer allow these companies to pervert our youth and groom them into the Gender Cult.”
These allegations have been met with strong opposition from LGBTQ+ advocates and organizations. Many have criticized Gays Against Groomers for spreading baseless claims and harmful stereotypes about LGBTQ+ people and their supportive initiatives. Medical organizations have also debunked their assertion that gender dysphoria is a “social contagion.”
Who are Gays Against Groomers?
Despite Gays Against Groomers’ self-presentation as a grassroots coalition dedicated to protecting children, Media Matters revealed that this group is composed of right-wing individuals with established ties to such organizations, linking the group’s founder, Jaimee Michell, and its former chair and co-founder, David Leatherwood, to right-wing firms and figures.
After Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pushed a widely criticized homophobic video attacking former President Donald Trump, a conflict within GAG resulted in Leatherwood leaving the organization over Michell’s continued support for DeSantis.
Nonetheless, in a recent Instagram post on June 10, the group claimed to be a volunteer-driven, grassroots effort, stating, “No one has pocketed a dime, and we have had zero big donors.”
Gays Against Groomers Employs Mental Health Disinformation
Gays Against Groomers has also repeatedly targeted transgender people with claims of mental deficiencies, the report found.
On May 4, Gays Against Groomers posted a video featuring the group’s New York chapter leader, who alleged that “therapists are manipulating parents and the children” while asserting that transgender people have a “mental disorder.” The video’s caption derided the speaker, contending, “Chopping off body parts will not make you the opposite sex and will probably not solve your mental disorder.”
On April 21, the organization shared another video claiming that being transgender is a “mental illness.”
The post’s caption, which referenced an image of a transgender person in an advertisement, contended that “mental illness should not be celebrated as if it is something to aspire to be like. And that is exactly what this poster is.”
Also, on April 11, Gays Against Groomers posted a screenshot of a tweet suggesting that “trans is the new emo,” with a controversial comparison. The post also promoted GAG merchandise for sale alongside these statements.
Furthermore, the group used the tragic Nashville, Tenn., school shooting on March 28, 2023, to make sweeping claims about transgender people, labeling them a “monstrosity of a movement.” Police reported at the time that the shooter identified as transgender.
Gays Against Groomers recently called for a protest of a drag event in Wisconsin, and the group found themselves screaming at attendees as neo-Nazis wielding swastika flags joined in the group’s cause. GAG disavowed the neo-Nazis before walking that back and claiming they could be part of a false flag operation.
Meta’s Evaluation of the Gays Against Groomers Account
In response to The Advocate’s inquiry, a Meta spokesperson affirmed the company’s commitment to creating a safe and inclusive online space for the LGBTQ+ community.
“At Meta, we want to make sure our platforms are a safe and inclusive space for the LGBTQIA+ community, and we work hard to allow people freedom of voice while ensuring we minimize harm. We have a long history of engaging with global LGBTQIA+ community groups, stakeholders, and advocacy organizations, and when we identify content that violates our policies, we take appropriate action,” the spokesperson wrote in a statement.
The statement also emphasized Meta’s dedication to addressing hate speech and harmful content, particularly when it targets LGBTQ+ people.
The spokesperson said that examples from the Media Matters report cited by The Advocate in its inquiry were “non-violating.” They clarified, “If someone were to use the term ‘groomer’ as an attack against someone based on being part of the LGBTQ+ community, it violates our hate speech policies.”
Meta acknowledged that the online landscape can be adversarial, with groups and individuals continually evolving tactics to circumvent content moderation. The company underscored its ongoing efforts to evaluate and enhance its approach in collaboration with LGBTQ+ safety and advocacy organizations.
The company said that in response to feedback from advocacy groups like GLAAD, Meta disclosed that it had removed interest topics perceived as sensitive, including those related to sexual orientation and gender identities other than cisgender, as part of its comprehensive set of policies and safeguards.
GLAAD called out Meta's actions concerning Gays Against Groomers on Monday. According to a statement released by GLAAD, Meta suspended the Gays Against Groomers's Facebook page last week only to restore it later, asserting that the initial suspension was made in "error." GLAAD emphasized that such platforms should uphold their policies to ensure user safety and maintain a hate-free online environment.
“We’ve seen loopholes in enforcement from Meta in the past,” Gogarty of Media Matters said, unimpressed with Meta's response. “I unfortunately don’t expect that to change here.”