Transphobia on Facebook: Exploring Hate Narratives in the Comment Section
Trans-related violence and suicide among transgender youth are increasing at an alarming rate. This makes transgender emancipation and visibility progressively more important. With the Internet allowing millions of users online to share their opinion, social media platforms such as Facebook, facilitate some of the most hateful narratives. In this research, I tried to conceptualize these narratives and explain how they contribute to the dangers that transgender individuals experience.
This article is a condensed version of the bachelor thesis “To Hate or Not to Hate: Defining Transphobia in Facebook Comments – A Comparative Study Between the Netherlands and the United States” by Nicky Papilaja.
According to NBJC, in the US alone, this year already 22 transgender people were killed. These are painful numbers for the trans community in the US, but it also affects the global queer community as a whole. Important to note is that this particular issue disproportionally hurts the black communities in the US, in specific black trans women. In a timeframe of just seven days between June 25th and July 3rd, six black trans women were found dead.
Suicide poses an even larger risk for trans youth. One study showed that 47% of trans people under 25 had at least attempted suicide once. Another study found that trans people who have undergone sex reassignment surgery are 19 times more likely to commit suicide.
Role of Facebook
There are several factors that contribute to these numbers for trans-related suicide and homicide. One that is under-researched, but nonetheless very important, is the role of social media. News sites such as CNN in the US and AD.nl in the Netherlands use their Facebook page to spread articles and engage with audiences. Trans-related news articles often spark a debate in the comments, with some users expressing transphobic thoughts.
In this research, I looked into these transphobic Facebook comments to see what the difference is between the US and the Netherlands. Guided by the research question: “How do transphobic narratives in Facebook comments under Dutch news articles differ from those under American news articles?”, I analyzed 436 Facebook comments under 12 news articles. I categorized the different ways in which transphobic ideologies are expressed by online users.
A total of 8 different categories were identified: ‘denying the trans identity’, ‘scientific/biological arguments’, ‘mean/hurtful comments’, ‘trans is illness’, ‘disproving based on religion’, ‘loss of (national) identity’, ‘blaming politics’, and ‘trans is a trend’.
Despite these profiles being public, users are not shy about expressing their hatred for transgender people. Comments about one’s physics, genitalia, and mental health were very common.
Hate towards a person or group of people is not something anyone is born with. Transphobia, as well as racism, homophobia, or xenophobia, is learned behavior. This is part of a person’s socializing process, influenced by the environment, the media, politics, and culture. For most of these contributing factors, it is known where the hate originates from and how to tackle it.
But when it comes to hate comments on social media platforms such as Facebook, the product of transphobia is at the same time also the cause of transphobia. Online users sympathize with the comments they read under news articles, or even obtain their information from it. This is dangerous as the risk of misinformation is extremely high.
Defining what specific hateful narratives enter the realms of social media is the first step into combatting the transphobia that results from it. Knowing per country what type of transphobia is most prevalent helps to define which areas need the most help.
This research showed that Dutch transphobia seems to be more focused on ridicule, sarcasm, and passive-aggressiveness. This closely relates to the fear of losing one’s traditional ‘Dutch’ nationality, or in frustration with their conflicting understanding of the world. This means that trans-related education and campaigns need to focus on positioning the trans identity within the Dutch identity.
American transphobia appears to be grounded in religion, focused more often on mentioning one’s sex organs, and regularly implies violence and harassment. Therefore, in the US, trans-related education and campaigns need to shift their attention to the religious communities, and the way in which they discuss the topic of gender identity.
You can read the full thesis below.BA-Thesis-Nicky-Papilaja-470126-PDF