Online harassment, danger and poverty: How the digital divide affects the LGBTI community

The first study of its kind has looked into how the digital divide affects the LGBTI community.
The first study of its kind has looked into how the digital divide affects the LGBTI community. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Pascale Davies
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The first study of its kind has looked into how the digital divide affects the LGBTI community.


The digital divide is a “vicious cycle” for the LGBTI community around the world, despite the online space also being revolutionary in spearheading movements, according to a rights group.

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA) released a report on Tuesday looking into the community’s disparities in digital access, claiming it is the first to conduct a global review of the digital divide for the LGBTI community.

Those in the community who suffer from the digital divide, which is unequal access to laptops and devices that connect to the Internet, could not access important information such as health data nor a supportive online community, the study found.

“Access to a community is what gives most of us strength. Knowing that you’re not the only one and there’s someone else who is working alongside you on this journey is where we derive most of our strength from, especially as leaders,” said one study participant in Uganda.

The report also found that there were concerns about harassment online, which participants said tech companies could do more to solve.

“The digital divide affects everyone. For LGBTI people, the digital divide is an issue of also facing hostile legislation and very specific barriers,” said Daniele Paletta, communications manager for ILGA.

He told Euronews Next it is a “vicious cycle,” as those who may not have access to education or who drop out of school due to discrimination may not have the means to access the Internet.

This leads to fewer opportunities to access higher education or jobs, making them more likely to live in poverty.

Entrapment and blackmail

There are currently 61 United Nations member states with laws that criminalise consensual same-sex sexual acts.

The Internet is crucial for those who need to navigate their way through legislation and surveillance, such as the risks in some countries of being on a dating app.

In Southwest Asia and North Africa “there are many instances of entrapment, blackmail and abuse from police and dating apps and social,” said Paletta, adding that in some cases people are prevented from using public wifi and media centres.

Getting to a place with Internet access is another issue as some study participants said that living in rural areas meant they needed to walk to the nearest city, which poses risks of being exposed to violence if a person is visibly perceived as being part of the LGBTI community.

However, having easy access to the Internet can also expose people to harassment online.

“Social media platforms are where most of these harms happen,” said one participant in Uganda.

“But somehow content moderation is not taken as seriously, and people who are doing content moderation are also not working in great conditions, so they aren’t able to do their work as effectively.”

The European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO) said in a report in May 2023 that anti-LGBTQ misinformation and disinformation is on the rise and "often incites hate against minorities, laws and institutions".

While some social media companies do moderate content, Paletta said they can be slow to respond to reports of harassment.

Another issue is that while some people can leave a platform, such as X (formerly Twitter), which has been slammed for firing its content moderators after Elon Musk took over the company, many users from certain countries do not have that luxury because it is still a very big and important platform to be on, Paletta said.


“Sometimes there is really the feeling that these companies created something [and]they're not really, able to grasp what they have now created,” he added.

“There's a need for collaborative efforts between governments, NGOs and technology companies, I think to understand what what can really work,” Paletta advised.

'We can go without connections'

Another way to improve the digital divide and social media platforms is more funding to LGBTI organisations and for digital inclusion initiatives, the study advises.

But some interviewees mentioned that while internet connectivity and resources are important, for some LGBTI organisations, this is not always the most pressing need.

“I know the Internet is very important, but the lives of our people on land are more important than connectivity. We can go without connections,” one association in Tonga said.


“But if we aren’t able to serve our people, nationally, how can we connect overseas, and when they don’t have the energy, when they don’t have the freedom to talk.”

The study, in participation with the non-profit organisation The Engine Room, was conducted with representatives of ILGA’s Latin America and the Caribbean, Pan Africa, Europe, Asia, and Oceania regional offices and governing bodies.

The study noted its limitations such as potential sources of bias and gaps in available data and that not all the interviewees have LGBTI populations as their primary focus.

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