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BBC’s obfuscation of transphobia in social media toxicity study

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The BBC logo on a curved red-brick wall.

The BBC’s obfuscation of transphobia has reached a new low with a report on social media toxicity. The report has allegedly been censored in “real time” to obfuscate transphobia, with the article also failing to mention transphobia’s contribution to the figures – amongst other issues.

A somewhat distressed Jess Phillips MP is the face of an article from the BBC titled “Scale of abuse of politicians on Twitter revealed”. An article which is currently being torn to shreds criticised heavily on social media for its poor quality of data and weird framing that further’s the BBC’s obfuscation of transphobia.

A quick history of the BBC’s obfuscation of transphobia includes their comments regarding staff attending Pride events, their decision to  repeatedly platform anti-trans groups with sympathetic framing, the refusal to allow trans people platforms without being contrasted by anti-trans voices, the repeated targeting of Stonewall such as via Nolan Investigates which found that Stonewall are a pro-LGBTQIA+ political lobbying group yet framed this as shocking, and of course the whole shindig with that article that cited an alleged sex offender to accuse trans women of potential sex offences.

Yet despite all of that that I am still shocked at this outing of the BBC’s obfuscation of transphobia. It’s just so brazen and, if claims by users on Twitter at to be believed, perhaps even deliberate.

This as users on Twitter report that information has been retracted from the final report after Pete Sherlock, BBC’s Editorial lead at BBC Shared Data Unit, posted it online. Specifically this information allegedly pointed towards transphobia being a leading source of the toxicity directed at politicians. One user commented on this being mis-leading and asked to see a non-censored version of the study.

The report itself shows this too, even remarking on the fact that Jamie Wallis MP received an immense amount of toxicity for coming out as gender dysphoric. The report states responses to Jamie Wallis MP were “notably more hostile than the proportions for male and female MPs”. The accompanying BBC article does not include this fact at all or indeed any mention of Jamie.

The report itself backs this up with a list of MPs who received the most toxicity according to the algorithm. A Twitter user shows that of the top 10 listed 3 received toxic tweets as a backlash for their support of trans people.

The BBC’s obfuscation of transphobia kicks in hard here by refusing to call it transphobia and instead using language like: “James Murray received more than 300 toxic tweets in a single day when he spoke about transgender rights in a radio interview”. Obfuscating the fact that this toxicity was anti-trans in nature.

The BBC’s obfuscation of transphobia is furthered by muddying the waters and having Jess Phillips MP not only be the face of this piece but also give comment on trans issues specifically. She is quoted in the BBC article and report as saying:

“The trans debate is exactly the sort of issue where you can see this writ large. People don’t want to touch it regardless of your viewpoint and the majority of MPs will have a nuanced viewpoint.

“There is no way of winning in that space – it’s so horrendous.

“Specifically the issue over women’s rights butting up against the trans debate. I’ve no doubt the toxic environment has stopped concerted efforts for progress on this issue.”

Jess Phillips MP is here shown attempting to both sides this, despite the data clearly showing that anti-trans toxicity is far more prevalent than pro-trans toxicity. But also despite her own foray into anti-trans toxicity which she has not at all taken responsibility or had any accountability for. Such as the time she helped spread a transphobic conspiracy theory about a murdered woman. The BBC did not mention this.

It’s also important to note that many users have also found that the AI’s ability to pick up transphobia is flawed to say the least. With blatantly anti-trans tweets receiving a less than 10% toxicity rating – yet even despite this still topping the charts. Could you imagine what these figures would look like if the AI could actually recognise transphobia? The BBC does not mention any of this.

Other users have also found that the face of the article, Jess Phillips MP, has been regularly calling other politicians a disgrace herself. Something which the report shows is one of the top toxic things said to politicians.

The BBC’s obfuscation of transphobia is genuinely shocking. It’s not just an awful thing to do on its own, its also awful because of just how bold they are being while doing it. They have barely even tried with this. This is the data science equivalent of putting your fingers in your ears and screaming until people stop asking you questions about your terrible data science.

As flawed as the data here is – it all points to the same conclusion that anti-trans voices are a leading source of toxicity directed at politicians. So why is this not the headline of the story? Why is this not even specifically mentioned in the story? Why does the BBC allow the wiggle room for transphobes to assume or assert that toxicity is coming from trans people when by their own data is provably isn’t?

It is because the BBC has a transphobia problem and refuses to admit it.

 

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