Unmasking the Digital Closet: Online Harms and LGBTQ+ Communities

"Social Media Conference YouTube Thumbnail" by Queensuperalex is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
“Social Media Conference YouTube Thumbnail” by Queensuperalex is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

LGBTQ+ content creators on social media platforms are increasingly complaining about content moderation and online harms, that their posts being censored, silenced or demonetized in various ways, a practice labeled as “The Digital Closet” .

(Monea, 2023)


Social media has become both a shelter and a struggle for the underprivileged. LGBTQ+ groups may find it particularly difficult. This article explores “The Digital Closet” and its tremendous impact on them. “The Digital Closet” as stated by Alexander Monea (2023), is an analogy for many LGBTQ+ community’s physical closet, represents online secrecy, self-censorship, and anxiety. It is a virtual area where people may disguise their identities to avoid prejudice, harassment, and even violence.

“What Is the Digital Closet?” by Alexander Monea is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

The many virtual harms of LGBTQ+ people on social media cannot be ignored. From focused defamation to doxxing and cyberbullying, the internet’s online presence can amplify this community’s offline challenges. In addition, the editing and moderation of online content, in which algorithms and human evaluators correctly distinguish between hate speech and free expression, are important factors affecting the fair participation of LGBTQ+ groups in social media content creation.

Today, it is crucial that we recognize the need for a safer cyberspace in the digital age. By reviewing the rules, fighting for full democracy, and promoting empathy and respect, we can break down the digital closet and create an era of integrity, acceptance, and empowerment for the LGBTQ+ community. This article aims to illuminate the complex relationship between digital environments and LGBTQ+ experiences, promoting a more diverse and compassionate online world.

Social media applications on mobile“is licensed under CC0 1.0

The Digital Closet: Hiding the LGBTQ+ Online Identity

People who identify as LGBTQ+ in “the digital closet” conceal their sexual orientations digitally to prevent prejudice, hate speech, and even harm. Given this harsh reality, many create virtual spaces that mirror real constraints.

This conflict represents the continuous fight for digital diversity, as Alexander Monea detailed in his blog article The Digital Closet. Technology has made online platforms a lifeline and a danger zone for LGBTQ+ persons. While the internet promotes unity, anonymity may also fuel bigotry. Celebrating All things authentically queer and wishing all the rainbow-washing corporations a terrible day and The LGBTQ Tech Blog discuss LGBTQ+ internet issues.

Hate speech and cyberbullying are prominent in this conflict. UN News’ Hate speech in the digital world a ‘critical obstacle for LGBTI people’: UN’s Bachelet examines the disturbing frequency of hate speech online and its effects on disadvantaged populations like LGBTQ+ people. Effective content moderation rules and technologies are urgently needed, according to the report. LGBTQ+ voices have also gained strength via social media advocacy. 

Looking at the digital closet, we have to embrace contemporary tolerance and acceptance. Through their blog “Sydney WorldPride 2023: P&G Australia “Leads with Love, P&G advocates for LGBTQ+ rights”, that showing progress and future work. As people traverse the digital world, we must continue these talks and lobby for a more diverse digital space. We can break the digital closet and create a diverse, accepting, and honest digital world by highlighting LGBTQ+ issues and sharing information from LGBTQ+ blogs and websites.

P&G’s video campaign for love and equality shows that LGBTQ+ empowerment changes the world.

“Procter & Gamble | Sydney WorldPride 2023” by P&G is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Online Hate Speech and Discrimination

Social media promotes hate speech and intolerance as well as community. Many LGBTQ+ individuals are being harassed, slandered, and intimidated. Adequate management of content is essential since such interactions have enormous psychological impacts. One blog discussed American pride status.

According to the site Improving Lives and Rights of LGBTQ People in America, 1 in 3 LGBTQ people faced prejudice last year. LGBTQ individuals endure psychological, bodily, and financial harm and adapt their way of life to avoid persecution.

Cyberbullying Law and the New School Year” by CT Senate Democrats is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Statistics on prejudice and inequity enforce civil rights. The executive order ought to mandate organizations to gather and evaluate LGBTQ civil rights data on compliance to ensure effective enforcement.

In another blog, Online hate speech, it was stated that Australian and New Zealand people had comparable hate speech exposure rates since they used the same criterion. Up to August 2019, 14% of Australian adults have been assaulted by internet hate speech. The June 2019 New Zealand figure was 15%.

Content Moderation: A Fine Line

Social media networks are struggling with content filtering. A delicate balance must be struck between free speech and damage prevention. Despite community norms, LGBTQ+ content is disproportionately flagged or removed, and crucially, these moderation actions typically occur under the radar (Gillespie, 2018). The unintended result reinforces the digital closet, inhibiting authenticity.

Jaclyn Diaz’s blog highlights the harassment in social media for the LGBTQ+ community members. In the blog Social Media Hate Speech, Harassment ‘Significant Problem’ For LGBTQ Users: Report, it was found that LGBTQ+ social media members experienced 64% greater bullying and discrimination than other groups. Most of the online abuse was on Facebook, where online harassment has harmed 75% of Facebook victims. Twitter (24%), YouTube (21%), Instagram (24%), and Tok-tok (9%), experienced less abuse or hostility.

Impact on Mental Health and Well-being

Digital closet ramifications go beyond screens. LGBTQ+ people’s mental health suffers from internet surveillance. It promotes self-censorship and undermines Internet security. Dr. David McLaughlan’s blog,  LGBTQ+ Mental Health: Stats, Support and How to Help stated that becoming an LGBTQ+ does not affect mental health, the issues can have complex causes.

In 2018, 52% of LGBTQ+ individuals were depressed, 64% of whom had been threatened or abused. Until today, online society still discriminates against this group in different ways, as can be seen in the 2018 government-leader National LGBT survey , that 40% of them have experienced a negative sexual or identity-related event. Most incidents (i.e., verbal abuse, cyberbullying, hate speech) have an ongoing impact on their mental health.

Health Life Recovery | Mental Health and Addiction in the LGBTQ+ Community | Healthy Life (healthyliferecovery.com)

LGBTQ+ people face health inequalities due to prejudice, discrimination, and denial of fundamental human and civil rights. These issues increase drug addiction, psychological illnesses, and suicide. Self-acceptance, family acceptance, and societal acceptance greatly impact their mental health and safety. It demonstrates the essential need for LGBTQ+ awareness, acceptance, and support to combat discrimination and prejudice.

Social media & LGBTQ+

Not just users, but platforms are responsible. According to Massanari (2017), social platforms tend to utilize governance strategies and cultural practices to foster unique communities that promote enhanced user engagement, despite potential risks of harm. Transparent and inclusive content regulations, effective reporting procedures, and instructional campaigns may make the internet safer for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

In the blog of How LGBT Organizations Use Social Media For Social Good, the “It Gets Better Project” was mentioned. The “It Gets Better” Project empowers and connects LGBTQ+ adolescents worldwide. This was one of the earliest social media initiatives to target teens.

Social media icons internet app application – Credit to https://www.lyncconf.com/” by nodstrum is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The deaths of gay-bullied teens Justin Aaberg and Billy Lucas sparked the movement. Sexual health journalist Dan Savage and his companion Terry Miller produced a YouTube video on Savage’s hardships, including fighting bullying and bigotry. Other community members shared their stories concerning how it “got better” as grown-ups after the video went viral. In three years, the initiative collected over 50,000 testimonies, including celebrity and political ones, and continues to expand.

Social media should empower LGBTQ+ voices as much as possible in its efforts to eliminate the digital closet. Creating a diverse digital environment requires elevating minority perspectives, advocating for legislative changes, and cultivating empathy.

Conclusion: Opening Authentic Doors

“The Digital Closet” shines a light on the current online harms and content moderation of social media through the LGBTQ+ community. The Internet should be a place where every opinion is heard and respected, and people strive for a more diverse and compassionate digital world (i.e., where people can openly express their ideas without fear, regardless of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity). This collaboration is critical to ensuring that the digital world represents the diversity and depth of humanity.


ESafety Commissioner. (2020). Online hate speech: Findings from Australia, New Zealand, and Europe. https://www.esafety.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-01/Hate%20speech-Report.pdf

Gillespie, T. (2018). All Platforms Moderate. In Custodians of the Internet(pp. 1–23). Yale University Press. https://doi.org/10.12987/9780300235029-001

Government Equalities Office. (2018). National LGBT Survey Summary Report July 2018. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/722314/GEO-LGBT-Survey-Report.pdf

Hate speech in the digital world a ‘critical obstacle for LGBTI people’: UN’s Bachelet. (2019, September 24). UN News. https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/09/1047322

How LGBT Organizations Use Social Media For Social Good. (n.d.). Tech Impact Staff. https://blog.techimpact.org/lgbt-organizations-use-social-media-social-good/

Improving the Lives and Rights of LGBTQ People in America. (2021, January 12). By Caroline Medina, Sharita Gruberg, Lindsay Mahowald, and Thee Santos. https://www.americanprogress.org/article/improving-lives-rights-lgbtq-people-america/

LGBT Tech. https://www.lgbttech.org/blog

Massanari, A. (2017). Gamergate and The Fappening: How Reddit’s algorithm, governance, and culture support toxic technocultures. New Media & Society19(3), 329–346. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444815608807

Monea, A. (2022). The Digital Closet: How the Internet Became Straight. The MIT Press. https://doi.org/10.7551/mitpress/12551.001.0001

Procter & Gamble | Sydney WorldPride 2023. (2023, March 14). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycY06Xom-iM

P&G. (2023, March 15). Sydney WorldPride 2023: P&G Australia “Leads with Love”. https://us.pg.com/blogs/sydney-worldpride-2023-pg-leads-with-love/

Robyn Exton. (2023, June 28). Celebrating all things authentically queer and wishing all the rainbow-washing corporations a terrible day. https://weareher.com/ending-the-rainbow-washing-cycle/

Social Media Hate Speech, Harassment ‘Significant Problem’ For LGBTQ Users: Report. (2021, May 10). By Jaclyn Diaz. https://www.npr.org/2021/05/10/995328226/social-media-hate-speech-harassment-significant-problem-for-lgbtq-users-report

LGBTQ+ Mental Health: Stats, Support and How to Help. (2022, February). By Dr. David McLaughlan. https://www.priorygroup.com/mental-health/lgbtq-plus-mental-health-support

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