Could This Cool New Tracking Tool Make Twitter Less Homophobic?


Almost 43% of kids today have been bullied online. Part of what’s made cyber bullying so widespread in recent years is that the instigators don’t have to say something directly to someone else. Instead, they can post it to the faceless internet without any immediate repercussions. In addition to cyber bullying, there’s something similar happening on Twitter these days — the presence of hate speech in Tweets, because it’s easier than calling someone a slur in person.

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has taken matters into their own hands after seeing how many Tweets contain homophobic slurs. Their ThinkB4YouSpeak campaign uses a tracking tool to count how many Tweets contain the words “fag,” “dyke,” and the words “so gay.” You can see how many Tweets contain these phrases each day, each week, and each month , and can even see the Tweets being posted in real time. For those who throw the words around without really thinking about the damage they do, looking at the sheer number of Tweets found by the tracker could be an eye-opening experience.

Seeing the number of Tweets containing these words really takes one aback — especially if you come from a liberal city, as I do. Sure, I heard words like these thrown around during high school, but by college (admittedly, a liberal and privileged atmosphere), people would be called out for using such language. . Looking at the tracker makes it obvious that homophobia is still prevalent throughout the world and highlights how far we still have to go until LGBTQ people aren’t surrounded by a discourse of intolerance and ignorance.

It’s worth noting that the words GLSEN cites as homophobic can also be used in a positive context. Some LGBTQ people are working to reclaim words and phrases such as these, but they haven't been reclaimed yet.

One could argue that there are many more important issues to tackle — the plight of homeless LGBTQ youth, gay marriage, adoption rights — but working to fight bullying and intolerance is truly one of the most important issues for LGBTQ people today. The murder of Mark Carson in NYC’s West Village last week is a sad reminder that even the spaces that seem the safest still can be fractured by intolerance.

It's clear that part of the reason why people still feel free to bully LGBTQ people is sheer ignorance. People, especially teenagers, don’t realize how much words can cut and how many people are offended by them. Hopefully the work that GLSEN is doing will open some eyes to the reasons why using homophobic words or phrases is not acceptable, especially online. 

Looking at the live feed makes it clear that for the most part these words are being used as derogatory terms. And no matter if the words are used online or off, they still have the power to hurt.