How to Be Safe on Social Media, Especially if You’re LGBTQ+

Enforcement of community standards on social media can be lax, research shows. But there are ways to take control of your feed.

Hand using phone showing social media feed, with LGBTQ+ colored rings on top Photo Illustration: Tim LaPalme/Consumer Reports, Getty Images

Alok Vaid-Menon is a performance artist, author, speaker, poet, and comedian, but you wouldn’t know it just by looking at them. Rather, you’d be struck by their clothes. Vaid-Menon, who is gender nonconforming, embodies the movement to redefine beauty and fashion away from traditional masculine/feminine standards. Whether posing for a glossy magazine spread, for a photo to accompany a New York Times profile, or speaking onscreen in HBO’s “The Trans List,” Vaid-Menon’s colorful attire defies categorization—and commands attention.

On Instagram, where Vaid-Menon has 1 million followers, the artist shares their thoughts on social issues and posts plenty of fashion shots, like a recent one of them in a crop top and mini-skirt paired with platform sandals. 

But the visibility comes at a price. “Because I am brown and choose to maintain my body hair, people comment on my photos with thousands of gorilla and monkey emojis,’’ says Vaid-Menon. “Simply existing on the internet as an LGBTQ person—and especially a trans person—means constant online abuse.”

Photo of Alok Vaid-Menon (left), @alokvmenon Instagram profile (right)
Author and performance artist Alok Vaid-Menon is the social media presence behind #degenderfashion.

Photos, from left: Kohl Murdock, Instagram Photos, from left: Kohl Murdock, Instagram

More on Online Safety

Of course, you don’t have to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community to have faced online harassment. These days, social media platforms can feel like dumpster fires fueled by hate for differences of almost any kind, not just sexual orientation. But LGBTQ+ individuals face particular types and degrees of intolerance, according to several recent reports.

For example, a 2022 survey from the ADL, the anti-hate organization, found that LGBTQ+ respondents were more likely than any other group surveyed (Jewish, Muslim, African American, Hispanic, and Asian American) to say they had experienced online intimidation: 66 percent compared with 38 percent of non-LGBTQ+ respondents.  

In another report, released earlier this month, researchers at the media watchdog group Media Matters tracked activity on Facebook during LGBTQ+ Pride Month in June and found what it described as baseless and sometimes dangerous rhetoric about the LGBTQ+ community especially amplified across the platform at that time. 

And a third recent study, by the LGBTQ+ advocacy organization GLAAD, uncovered similar issues. Its Social Media Safety Index report evaluated five major social platforms—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube—and identified problems including inadequate content moderation and enforcement of community standards on all of them. The group also found that 40 percent of LGBTQ+ adults and 49 percent of transgender and nonbinary people said they didn’t feel welcomed and safe on social media.

“Every day online, LGBTQ+ users are at the mercy of inadequate policies and unaccountable algorithmic systems that opaquely allow and accelerate harmful, hateful material,” says Consumer Reports’ policy analyst, Laurel Lehman, whose work focuses on platform accountability. “Where platforms fail, advocates and researchers must continue to take note and push platforms, lawmakers, and regulators toward a fairer, safer internet for all consumers.” 

Individuals and advocacy groups like CR are calling on social media companies to do a better job of stopping hate on their platforms before it spills over into real-world violence, which happened during last month’s Pride celebrations, a number of which were delayed or disrupted by protestors, some carrying guns.

A spokesperson for Meta, Facebook and Instagram’s parent company, told CR it prohibits violent or dehumanizing content directed against people who identify as LGBTQ+. “We also work closely with our partners in the civil rights community to identify additional measures we can implement through our products and policies.”

Jack Malon, a YouTube spokesperson, told CR that content promoting violence or hatred against members of the LGBTQ+ community was against the platform’s policies. “Over the last few years, we’ve made significant progress in our ability to quickly remove hateful and harassing content,” Malon said. “This work is ongoing.” 

TikTok works hard to create an inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ people to thrive, according to a spokesperson who told CR, “We continually take steps to strengthen our protections for marginalized people and communities.” 

 Twitter didn’t respond to requests for comment.

How to Limit Toxic Content

Until the social media platforms improve their content moderation and enforce their own policies better, there’s much you can do to make your feeds safer places to express yourself or enjoy postings from others. Here are two or three key steps to take for each of the most popular platforms. For more safety measures, see "How to Filter Hate Speech, Hoaxes, and Violent Clips Out of Your Social Feeds."

Facebook (desktop browser)
To block a user: Go to their page > Click the three-dot menu icon near the top right of the profile > Choose “Block.”

To report a user or a group: Navigate to their page > Click the three-dot menu icon near the top right of the profile > “Report.”

Instagram (mobile app)
To block or report a user: Navigate to their profile > Tap the three-dot menu icon in the top right > Tap “Block” or “Report.”

YouTube (desktop browser)
To disable comments: Click the drop-down icon next to the “Comment visibility” section > select “Disable comments.”  

To report a video: Click the menu button with three dots next to a video’s title > Click “Report.”

To report a channel: Open the channel’s page > About > Click the flag icon.

Twitter (mobile app)
To unfollow, block, or report a user, or mute (keep certain topics out of your feed): Navigate to their profile > Open the menu in the top right > Select the action you want to take. (You can also do some of these functions from the menu in the top right of a particular tweet.) 

To report a tweet: Open the menu in the top right of the tweet > Tap “Report Tweet.”

TikTok (mobile app)
To report a video: Tap and hold while the video is playing > Tap “Report.”

To block or report a user: Go to their profile > Open the three-dot menu in the top right > Tap “Block” or “Report.”

Brian Vines

I'm a journalist with a healthy sense of outrage and a passion for amplifying the voices of those too often ignored. I've worked behind the scenes at CNN, as a managing editor in community television, and as senior correspondent at BRIC-TV, where I was part of an Emmy Award–winning team dedicated to social justice. At CR, I explore marketplace inequities to remove barriers between consumers and the goods and services they are seeking.