Facebook a danger to LGBT Youth?

lgbt flagBack in September when Facebook started announcing and putting all their new changes into place, specifically the timeline, I had a talk with my online advisor. At that time we were discussing the fact that most LGBT Youth organizations do NOT communicate with teens through the medium they use most: their cell phone. In fact, most LGBT Youth organizations’ online info isn’t even accessible to at-risk teens if they aren’t sitting at a PC. Simply, website and contact info is nearly invisible if the organization’s website is not mobile friendly. (Or if they don’t have a mobile app.)

This came to light (to me) when I was trying to send some emergency contact info to an LGBT kid that needed immediate resources and help. I sent several of the most prominent national LGBT youth website URLs (and multiple local ones)  only to have him tell me that he couldn’t read or access any of it on his cell phone. (The only thing available to him.) That’s a pretty big fail for LGBT Youth organizations, especially those trying to help homeless youth.  If we can’t connect with the kids, how are we going to help?

But then there’s Facebook. Let me say right off that I am no fan. I have a page that is managed for me, but I don’t have, or want, a personal Facebook profile. I heartily disagree with Zuck’s idea that our every action needs to be broadcast and included in his website so he can make a dime. Sorry, but no. But that’s me personally.

Don’t get me wrong, Facebook also does a lot of good for the LGBT community, and we have all seen them step up to combat bullying and homophobia, and as most of you know I promote that quite often. I think that initiative is  great, and I applaud them for it. However their newest features, those rolled out in September and those rolling out now, specifically put LGBT youth at serious risk.

The timeline automatically posts your activities into a public display of what you do on the Internet, where you go, who you interact with and a multitude of other things that can basically ‘out’ you to potential aggressors. The privacy features for timeline are, as per norm with  Facebook, confusing.

Now imagine yourself as a 13-18 LGBT kid living in a hostile ultra conservative household.  You need some information, have some questions, are asking yourself why you’re feeling this way…. and so you starting looking for resources to answer those questions. Suddenly it’s all up there for your parents to see, your classmates, your pastor. All the information, basically everything you do is public, whether you are plugged into Facebook or not (their advertising matrix follows you around the web).

Think that’s not possible? Think again. It’s already happened. One London Teenager was made homeless after his parents saw LGBT targeted ads pop up in his Facebook stream. Note that I do NOT blame Facebook for this tragedy. I blame his parents completely.

However, I do think that Facebook, while not meaning to, has become a medium non grata, and a potential threat to the safety of LGBT questioning and at risk youth.

Last week I retweeted a post from a LGBT Youth Center worker who was saddened that during the course of his week 5 under age LGBT kids had come into the center because their parents had tossed them out the door. Five gay kids on the street, at one center, in one week. Now extrapolate that out to a national level and maybe you’ll understand the size of the problem.

So what do we do? I don’t have the answers. I’m looking for them.

I don’t blame Facebook, but if the kids can’t access information that they need with some modicum of privacy (and safety) on one of the largest sites in the world, then ‘social media’ has become nothing more than a vehicle to empower corporate America and homophobic bigots.

And hey, if you’re a gay tech geek and reading this, step up to the plate and get your butt down to your local LGBT center and help them out. A few volunteered hours of your time creating a mobile app or a mobile website could save a kid’s life.