Digital Security Helpline: In 2020, LGBTQ groups are facing more online harassment than ever

As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grow, people in marginalized communities are facing an even more uncertain future. Across the globe, the absence of resources and structural discrimination put these communities at greater health risk. Worse, short-sighted policy changes fueled by pandemic fear are bringing new threats — both digital and physical — that further restrict these communities’ spaces to live and connect. Among them, the LGBTQ community is fighting harder than ever in many countries around the world.

At Access Now, we are working hard to understand and respond to these communities’ unique and evolving needs, providing human right defenders with resources and direct technical assistance through our Digital Security Helpline to support them in their fight. This Pride Month, we are sharing some of our key learnings drawn from Helpline cases, in the hope that this can aid groups fighting for LGBTQ rights in navigating emerging threats and finding new resources.

Since the beginning of 2020, the Helpline’s global team has seen a significantly increasing number of cases from LGBTQ communities. On one hand, this was a result of years of ongoing effort to connect and engage with local, frontline groups. On the other, it illustrates the deepening and compounding threats many LGBTQ folks are facing.

In the first half of 2020, the Helpline took at least 86 cases from LGBTQ communities across 30 countries, with the majority of cases coming from the MENA region. The digital attacks targeting LGBTQ communities are sophisticated and intrinsically connected to each other. But in general, the biggest threat is online harassment, followed by account compromise and censorship. This aligns with other indicators that hate speech/toxic content on social media is becoming more severe, and that companies need to be doing much more to ensure the safety of the people who are most at risk on their platforms.

Below you can find a detailed analysis of our learnings. Here you can find a downloadable version of this infographic.

Resources for LGBTQ communities

Along with the Digital Security Helpline, many of our partners are providing useful resources and channels of support for protecting the digital security of LGBTQ rights defenders. EFF has put together this comprehensive guide for safely taking your voice to the streets during Pride (with a focus on North America). Queer people in need of help in Tunisia can reach out to Mawjoudin via their Facebook page or [email protected]. Latin America and the Caribbean’s Acoso Online provides guidance to women and LGBTQ groups facing online harassment and violence. More useful information can be found in our Pride Month post.