28 September 2012

Tracking Homophobia On Twitter

In July, the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services (iSMSS) at the University of Alberta launched www.nohomophobes.com to track the use of anti-gay language on Twitter.

Since then, it has detected over 2.5 million uses of the word "faggot."  That translates to about 10 million times a year, or over 800,000 times a month.  The site also tracks the use of such terms as "dyke", "so gay" and "no homo". I didn't see any tallies for "tranny" or any other terms that could be slurs against gender-variant people.  Perhaps they'll get around to including them.

Still, I am glad this service exists.  If nothing else, it shows the degree to which casual homophobia still exists and, in the words of iSMSS director Dr. Kristopher Wells, "remains one of the few socially acceptable forms of discrimination".  As Dr. Wells says, it "leads to isolation, bullying, beatings and, tragically, youth suicide."

In spite of the one criticism I've made, I applaud Dr. Wells and iSMSS for launching this service.  The "casual homophobia" to which he refers is pernicious enough.  But what's even worse, now, is the degree to which it can be spread through social media. People who use such terms, as often as not, don't think of themselves as homophobes, and perhaps they're not.  But they--especially the young--are, in using such language, helping to perpetrate hatred that imperils the health, safety and lives of their siblings and other family members, friends and classmates.  

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