At Fairplay, our ultimate goal is to eliminate the harms that all children may encounter when they enter an online environment or use a digital device. And when we started the work last year to create an internet Designed with Kids in Mind, we knew that it would be hard. We are living in a nation that already lacks foundational support for children as humans with fundamental rights. We’re already seeing progress, but recent attempts to legislate children’s identities are at odds with what kids and teens really need.
The internet should be a place where kids who don’t feel supported in their current communities can find safety and where kids and teens can see themselves reflected in positive, affirming ways. Now, with the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation flooding many U.S. states, we are called to state, simply, that we affirm queer children and believe that every single child deserves love and support.
We believe that all work to protect children in the context of the digital environment also must include systems that support queer kids. In fact, we know from a recent survey by The Trevor Project that “an overwhelming majority of LGBTQ+ youth said that social media has both positive (96%) and negative (88%) impacts on their mental health and well-being.” We believe that we need to build on that 96%, which is founded in opportunities online that help kids and teens feel visible, validated, and valued.
The problem, though, is that the internet today isn’t designed to help young people feel visible, validated, and valued. Instead, it’s designed to extract data, attention, and time from users in the name of corporate profits. We already know how the Big Tech business model puts kids at risk. For LGBTQ+ kids, those risks are even greater — algorithmic suggestions based on data about their presumed identities can out them before they’re ready, or even expose them to radical, hateful content targeted against them.
On paper, the internet holds so much promise for LGBTQ+ youth searching for community and exploring their identities: they could connect with friends in similar situations, get to know themselves better, or feel supported when living in an environment that doesn’t accept them for who they are. But, if the best “safe” digital spaces available for queer kids and teens only exist on commercialized social media platforms like Facebook and TikTok that commodify every aspect of kids’ experiences online, the platforms inevitably push them to become – and reduce them to – consumers.
That’s not even to mention that those same social media platforms have routinely failed to prevent bullying and harassment of their LGBTQ+ users, leading to GLAAD deeming them unsafe for the LGBTQ+ community just last year. Facebook allowed companies to advertise conversion therapy to young queer users. Transphobic abuse is downright rampant across Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Even worse, a 2021 study showed that engagement with the unregulated transphobic content that is rampant on TikTok led users to even more content that was blatantly anti-LGBTQ+, racist, violent, antisemitic, and white supremacist. When social media giants fail to take seriously harassment and bigotry, hate movements are able to grow online and radicalize even more people.
By failing to regulate the hate speech and harassment circulated on their platforms, Big Tech companies are normalizing homophobia and transphobia, and contributing to the environment we currently find ourselves in: one in which states across the country are moved to legislate hate against children who are already more vulnerable to mental health issues and risk of suicide.
Fairplay believes that every single child needs love, support, dignity, and respect to thrive – no matter their gender, sexuality, race, religion, income, or any other identity. Every single child deserves an internet in which they can explore and learn about themselves safely, without being commodified. Every single child deserves an internet that is not governed by tech corporations that foment hatred and bigotry. As an organization, Fairplay will fight tirelessly to make sure that internet regulation supports children across the spectrum of identity.
We stand for a world where kids can be kids, free from the interference of corporate marketers. Let us emphasize— this means all kids.