Tech Giants ‘Failing’ To Block Global LGBTQ Conversion Therapy Network

By Jamie Wareham, Contributor
Campaigners against LGBT+ conversion therapy attend a picket outside the Cabinet Office and Government Equalities Office on 23rd June 2021 in London, United Kingdom. Represented by LGBT+ and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, Revd Colin Coward and Jayne Ozanne of the Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition, they also handed in a petition signed by 7,500 people calling on the government to fulfil its promise made in July 2018 to ban LGBT+ conversion therapy. LGBT+ conversion treatments, which have been linked to anxiety, depression and self-harm, have been condemned by major UK medical, psychological and counselling organisations. (photo by Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty Images) In Pictures via Getty Images

Two new reports have exposed how tech companies are "failing" to block organisations who offer the widely discredited and so-called LGBTQ "conversion therapy."

The Global Project Against Hate and Extremism (GPAHE) also found the major 25 global players who offer the pseudoscientific practice are actually connected. The report has exposed how they are essentially composed of three major networks.

"Conversion Therapy Online: The Ecosystem", has found that despite promises from all the major players, including Google, Instagram and Facebook - many tech companies are failing to ban conversion therapy disinformation.

Conversion therapy is condemned by dozens of medical and psychological professional organizations, banned in numerous countries, states, and cities, and has been called "torture" and an "egregious violation of rights" by the U.N.

"Tech companies say they have taken steps to ban harmful content related to conversion therapy. But they have to do more, especially in non-English languages," says Wendy Via, president and cofounder of Global Project Against Hate and Extremism and coauthor of the report.

"Until online searches lead people to only authoritative, trustworthy information about the dangers of conversion therapy, tech companies are complicit in spreading anti-LGBTQ hate. This disinformation causes mental and physical harm for individuals, and furthers societal harm."

Though the exact findings vary by search term, language, and country, some key general patterns emerged:

  • Google, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and to some extent YouTube, have taken steps to curtail conversion therapy information. The search term "conversion therapy" generally returns reliable results in all languages except Swahili. The results vary by country for other terms such as "reparative therapy" and are dismal for the widely-used "same-sex attraction" and "reintegrative therapy." 
  • In Kenya, the difference in results between English and Swahili is highly problematic. English leads to a mix of trustworthy information, while in Swahili, the results led to material and propaganda that disparage and mock LGBTQ people and treat conversion therapy as reputable. Even the Wikipedia page in Swahili in Kenya is filled with malicious disinformation.
  • Microsoft's Bing and Amazon's Silk and Alexa search results are significantly less trustworthy in all languages and countries. Google is the most significant search engine which leaves other companies rarely challenged. Despite their search algorithms serving hundreds of millions of people worldwide. 
  • Searches in Germany show mostly trustworthy material following a recent national ban on conversion therapy and strict hate speech laws. However, even here, searching "reintegrative therapies" on Bing leads to less authoritative information, including problematic YouTube videos.
  • The recommendation algorithms on Facebook and Twitter continue to lead users down a dangerous conversion therapy rabbit hole once they land on a provider. However, the initial search mechanisms generally don't show a user to providers. 
  • In general, Facebook's search mechanism is more trustworthy than Twitter's. YouTube's search mechanism returns disinformation and propaganda more frequently than Facebook or Twitter, and the platform is rife with pro-conversion therapy material.

The report found that as a global push to ban conversion therapy continues, those who offer the cruel practice are getting smarter with their words.

Many have strategically rebranded themselves and their services with terms like "reintegrative therapy" and "unwanted same-sex attraction."

And it's been successful. Search results showing the terms "reintegrative therapy," show that sexuality change is not the goal - but is instead the happy result - of the so-called treatment.

While others are using "same-sex attraction" to refer to a curable condition, leading to many results showing harmful disinformation. Some also hide behind so-called religious imperatives or protecting children. 

"Too much harmful misinformation is slipping through, especially in non-English languages," said report author Via. 

"As conversion therapy providers constantly rebrand their malicious efforts and introduce new terms, tech companies need to keep up to protect their users." 

Global network of organizations who offer so called LGBTQ 'conversion therapy' exposed

In a further report, "Conversion Therapy Online: The Players" it was found that the 25 largest conversion therapy providers around the world, are interconnected. They are essentially composed of three major networks.

The first is organized around the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity and Joseph Nicolosi, Sr. This network is primarily made up of American practitioners. However, they practice their "therapy" in other countries and collaborate abroad.

The second, based in Europe, is centered around the Northern Ireland organization, Core Issues Trust, which has several partners in the U.K. and throughout Europe.

Another network is connected to the Exodus Global Alliance, which has allies worldwide and offices in the U.S., Mexico, and Brazil. 

Many of these sites have a sophisticated and extensive online presence. All of which are driving individuals to websites that condemn being LGBTQ and where "therapy" is offered.

"We hope these reports help tech companies clean up their platforms when it comes to anti-LGBTQ+ conversion therapy material," said Heidi Beirich, report coauthor and cofounder of GPAHE.

"Getting rid of this harmful material online is an important step toward creating a society where LGBTQ+ people are accepted and loved and nobody feels like they want or need to change who they are," said Beirich. "No more hate. That's the overall goal."

GPAHE tells me they have sent the report to all tech companies and will follow up with each company over the coming months.

The organization has urged tech companies to take appropriate steps to protect their users, especially teenagers and young people, from health disinformation, hate speech, and conspiracy theories.


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