Is space available to sexual minorities for sexual expression on social media?

While social media and sexual expression is usually viewed from a popular perspective, Hidden Pockets and Point of View decided to look at the same from a different lens; from the eyes of communities usually considered to be sexual minorities. Hidden Pockets and Point of View jointly hosted a panel on Social Media and Sexual Expression during Digital Citizen Summit 2017 on September 21, 2017. The speakers on the panel included Nadika – trans rights activist and writer, Smita Vanniyar – Point of View, Mahika – Feminism in India (FII), Jasmine Lovely George – Hidden Pockets, Nipun Malhotra – Nipman Foundation and Brindaalakshmi.K – Hidden Pockets. These speakers either represented or shared their expertise on different sexually marginalized communities like women, persons with different sexual orientations and gender (LGBTQIA) and persons with different disabilities.

The panel focused on understanding how inclusive social media platforms are towards these sexually marginalized communities. Exploring the challenges posed and solutions provided by social media platforms, the panel looked into the aspects of access, challenges and privacy in relation to the different communities.

Privacy

  • With social media platforms looking to verify all profiles with identification documents, the LGBTQIA+ community faces the constant risk of their gender and sexual identities and orientation being revealed on these platforms.
  • The privacy of persons with disabilities is compromised when their disability is revealed through images shared or the community of people that they are connected to on the platform.

Challenges

  • It was pointed out that social media primarily approaches content from a male gaze. This results in the censorship of certain categories of content on social media platforms. For instance: the body images of plus size women are filtered out while the body images of regular size women are pushed more on these platforms, thereby limiting the access to certain kinds of content on the platforms.
  • The LGBTQIA+ community faces the issue of their sexual or gender identity being revealed on social media by ex-partners or others who threaten them with extortion. Most cases of extortion go unrecorded due to the threat of IPC Sec 377. Victims gets threatens of images or videos being leaked. Unaware of their legal right against extortion, most give into these threats and pay the ransom demanded. It was noted that IPC Section 384 deals with punishment for extortion and IPC Section 388 deals with punishment for extortion using Sec 377.
  • Persons with disability find it hard to express their sexuality when their disability is visible on social media platforms.
  • Closed men-only Whatsapp groups perpetuating sexism and objectification of women, continue to exist. When asked if such women groups exist, the answer was no. Women-only groups exist. However the nature of these groups and the kind of content shared in these groups is very different from the men-only groups.

Though social media posses its own set of challenges, it’s advantages cannot be negated. Social platforms have also made Internet spaces more accessible for people from these communities to be open about their identity.

Access

  • Access becomes a challenge for person with disabilities especially those with visual impairment. How inclusive are these platforms for a person with disabilities is questionable. That said, social media platforms have also given them access, opening doors to person with other kinds of disabilities where none existed before.
  • Social platforms gave members of the LGBTQIA+ community the space to be open about their sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time in their lives by allowing them to create anonymous profiles with a different name and profile photograph.
  • Social media platforms also allow for transgender persons to be present on these platforms without disclosing their gender identity. It allows for them to come out if and when they wish to.
  • Social media platforms also provides access to create secret groups in support of different groups of people with certain challenges like the LGBTQIA+ allowing them access to a support system

In conclusion, when asked what would be the one thing that should or shouldn’t change about social media, most panelists agreed that social media may have its flaws but social media has opened several doors. However, it might be useful if these platforms become safe spaces where individuals can be themselves without worrying about any of the above mentioned issues. The onus should shift from individuals onto the platforms, governments and the Internet to make them safe for users.

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