Targeted disinformation campaigns, homophobic propaganda on social media, and online manipulation create an unsafe environment for LGBTQI+ youth and adults. The spread of false information creates uneducated societies. In terms of LGBTQI+, it also results in societies that lack diversity.

Chairperson of gay rights organization Bahaghari, Reyna Valmores, states: “You have to frame this out: this is a propaganda war. It’s not just rainbows and butterflies. You have to be willing to fight for it.”

To lessen the harm caused by falsehoods directed at LGBTQI+ communities and reduce the spread of disinformation campaigns, it’s important to understand different disinformation methods. That way, one can be prepared to tackle discrimination with various tools, resources, and the right information.

Different methods of disinformation and how to spot them

In an era of rapidly advancing technology and the swift sharing of information globally, the risks of disinformation have grown increasingly apparent. LGBTQI+ communities are frequently the target of alarmingly well-organized campaigns with clear political objectives.

The progress gained toward establishing equality and inclusion for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities are gravely threatened by disinformation efforts. These efforts attack the rights and dignity of LGBTQI+ people by utilizing untruths and supporting damaging stereotypes. Coordinated attacks feed prejudice, discrimination, social division, and even violence against a group that is already at risk by distorting the truth.

To protect the fundamental rights and well-being of LGBTQI+ people and promote a more inclusive society, it is essential to recognize the covert nature of such misinformation. Here are six methods of disinformation targeted toward LGBTQI+ communities:

1. Clickbait: These can be articles, blogs, or social media captions that offer misleading headlines to draw in readers. They often have false stories about the LGBTQI+ community, and these articles are created to invite more web traffic. Spot clickbait by reviewing the full story; the headline usually does not reflect the contents of the page.

2. Manipulative content: This is when real images or genuine information is altered to fit a homophobic narrative. Do a reverse-image search on Google to find the original articles.

3. Imposter content: These are websites or social media accounts masquerading as genuine, credible sources to invite more readers and spread homophobic disinformation. To spot imposter content, head to the homepage of the original organisation and look for the article in question. If the domain appears strange, deviating from standard the “.com” and “co. za”, this is another hint that it may be imposter content.

4. Propaganda: Content that is used to influence values and spread rumors to harm the LGBTQI+ community. Do a Google search on the author and check their credibility and social standing; it also helps to pay attention to persuasive and manipulative phrases. Search the article for facts, statistics, and quotes from experts. Credible sources usually include these in articles

5. Satire: These are fake stories and narratives that are created humorously and for entertainment purposes. They can often be harmful and discriminate against LGBTQI+ people, and some readers may take them seriously. Check the website for other humorous stories to confirm whether it is satirical or not.

6. Government-sponsored news: These articles are sponsored by government entities to spread LGBTQI+ disinformation for political gain. They are often biased and slanted to persuade readers to agree with written opinions. To spot government-sponsored news, check for “sponsored content” or “paid sponsor” labels. Use a political fact-checker website like Politifact as an additional method.

Once these different methods of disinformation are known, they can be easily spotted with some practice and then effectively countered.

The effect of digital targeting on LGBTQI+ groups and how it can be countered

There are more ways to spread disinformation and target communities besides the normalized methods of physical harassment and unlawful arrests. A Human Rights Watch report (Trigger warning: descriptions of assault) detailing coordinated attacks against LGBTQI+ in the Middle East and North Africa have recently come to light, in which hundreds of LGBTQI+ youth across five countries were harassed, publicly outed, and arrested based on falsified online conversations and images.

The ramifications of these online assaults in the Middle East and North Africa affected LGBTQI+ people's physical, mental, and social well-being. False information and negative narratives about the LGBTQI+ community were constantly spread, reinforcing preconceived notions and stereotypes that further marginalize and exclude people. This discrimination can take many different forms, such as being refused housing, work, or healthcare. Victims of these campaigns can experience severe psychological suffering as a result of the persistent cyberbullying, harassment, and hate speech they encounter.

Furthermore, the offline repercussions of internet targeting may intensify into physical violence. The article addresses incidents in which LGBTQI+ people have been physically assaulted, or even killed as a direct result of internet hate campaigns. This generates a culture of fear and insecurity among LGBTQI+ people that compromises their freedom of expression and safety.

The persistent climate of fear and uncertainty felt by LGBTQI+ people presents itself in a way that severely damages their fundamental rights. When striving to openly express their identities, this community faces significant obstacles. In many situations, fear of punishment or social ostracism prevents them from sharing their opinions and identities truthfully, resulting in self-censorship.

Homophobic and transphobic views linger in diverse locations, perpetuating a feeling of exclusion and animosity. This creates an environment in which LGBTQI+ people are highly aware of the risks connected with expressing their identities. Fear of physical assault, verbal abuse, and harassment in public places hinders their capacity to move freely and actively participate in social activities.

LGBTQI+ activists in the Middle East and North Africa informed Human Rights Watch about the incidents to gain online support and counter disinformation. This was also effective in warning other members of the LGBTQI+ community worldwide to be mindful of interactions online, many of whom deleted their accounts or made them private to protect themselves.

Activist organisations involved themselves in these cases by regularly confronting and exposing particular digital platforms, calling on them to remove harmful content and false information to protect the community.

Hive Mind’s Countering Disinformation course is a great way to get started in the digital activist journey.

Homophobia and Disinformation in South Africa

Although same-sex marriage is legal in South Africa and has been accepted for quite some time, the spread of disinformation in the country is still rampant. Approximately only 28.6% of Home Affairs branches have officers that are willing to oversee and marry same-sex couples. Disinformation has the power to perpetuate prejudices and discrimination against the LGBTQI+ population, delaying progress toward equal rights. It emphasizes the need for honest reporting and fact-checking in countering false narratives and promoting informed discussion. Many South African LGBTQI+ couples were refused or delayed the right to marry as a result of this disinformation, fostering an environment of deep insecurity and isolation.

A Mail & Guardian article outlined the effects of spreading common homophobic stereotypes, especially in South Africa. It examines an instance of damaging disinformation specifically directed toward homosexual males and their alleged role in the spread of monkeypox. The author emphasizes the negative effects of such deception. Many South African men were ostracized due to the false narrative spread around the connection between disease and homosexuality.

The author contends that this story not only reinforces unfavorable preconceptions but also makes an entire community the victim, which encourages prejudice and the possibility of violence.

The article highlights the initiatives made by LGBTQI+ groups, activists, and medical experts who aggressively contested and disproved the erroneous narrative. They accurately described how monkeypox spreads, highlighting the fact that sexual orientation has no bearing on how it spreads. Accurate information was supplied, false claims were refuted, and a more complete and inclusive story was promoted thanks to responsible journalism as a countermeasure.

The WHO lessened the damage caused by holding several question-and-answer sessions regarding monkeypox to dispel fear. The UNAIDS Programme also emphasized the need of avoiding racist and homophobic prejudices.

The text also underlines the value of group support and cooperation. LGBTQI+ organisations and supporters came together to denounce the false information and offer assistance to people who had been stigmatized.

What can you do to fight back against disinformation targeting LGBTQI+ people?

Homophobic disinformation campaigns work consistently to attack members of LGBTQI+, and with government involvement, it’s difficult to make grand-scale changes. However, there are a few actions individuals can take to help counter disinformation:

· Educate and share: Spend time doing some research about the problems facing the LGBTQI+ community, and be knowledgeable about the facts. Share them amongst friends, family, and on any social platform to challenge this disinformation.

· Report: If one happens to come across LGBTQI+ disinformation online, take the time to flag and report the post. Most platforms have built-in mechanisms to do this, but AI can be unreliable sometimes.

· Support: Be an effective ally by supporting LGBTQI+ organisations near you that offer accurate information. One can do this by donating, volunteering, or participating in movements.

Be a part of the solution in fighting back against disinformation by joining the Hive Mind community. Register for the Countering Disinformation self-paced course to stay informed.