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Trans model Munroe Bergdorf urges social media giants to tackle abuse

LONDON: With online abuse pushing her to quit Twitter, transgender model Munroe Bergdorf has called for social media companies to act faster to tackle racism and transphobia on their platforms.

The Black trans model, who said she regularly receives threats and waits hours for racist comments about her to be deleted, called on social media firms to invest in minorities to design algorithms to better protect themselves from abuse.

“If you can censor a nipple and a picture gets taken down with a nipple on it straight away … then why can’t you develop an algorithm that targets transphobic speech or racism?” the London-based model asked the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“If you’re only investing in cis white men, or cis white people, to write the algorithms then there’s a huge oversight there when it comes to lived experience and the nuance of hate speech,” she said, using a term to describe non-trans people.

A Twitter spokeswoman said that keeping people safe on its site was its number one priority.

“We prohibit targeting individuals with repeated slurs, tropes or other content that intends to dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes about a protected category,” she said in emailed comments.

“This includes targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals,” she said, referring to the use of a trans person’s pre-transition name without their consent.

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Social media giants have come under global scrutiny over their handling of problematic content.

When Bergdorf tweeted last week that she would be speaking at an International Women’s Day event in March, dozens tweeted back that she should not be a speaker because she was not a woman.

“We know how nuanced misogyny is,” said Bergdorf, who responded to the abuse with an Instagram post saying that she was tired of being a punching bag and that Twitter was not a safe app for trans people.

“Calling a trans woman a man, or attacking someone in a targeted way, in a harassing way, why is that allowed on the platforms?”

Bergdorf made headlines globally when French cosmetics giant L’Oreal, which chose her as its first trans model in a 2017 advertising campaign celebrating diversity, sacked her for saying on Facebook that all white people were racist.

She later said she was reacting to white supremacist violence in Charlottesville in the United States. L’Oreal offered her a new job last year helping to shape the firm’s diversity policies, amid worldwide Black Lives Matter protests.

“If you can find a way to work together, then you should,” the 34-year-old activist said, explaining that a three-hour Zoom call with L’Oreal Paris president Delphine Viguier convinced her that the company had changed.

“It’s not a positive feeling to be in a bad place with somebody. It’s not my nature to hold grudges … so if I can find a resolve, I will,” said Bergdorf, who begins her diversity adviser role at L’Oreal this week.

She advised other trans social media users not to argue online with people who do not accept their gender identity and call for trans women to be excluded from women-only spaces like bathrooms.

“You can only have a conversation with someone willing to understand that they may be wrong,” said Bergdorf, who is also writing a book about gender called “Transitional”.

“They actively trying to wind back our rights … I wouldn’t argue with someone from the (white supremacist) Ku Klux Klan and I’m definitely not arguing with gender critical feminists.”

 

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