AP

Rights group: Mideast governments target LGBTQ people online

Feb 21, 2023, 6:35 AM | Updated: 6:55 am

FILE - A person looks at the Grindr app on her mobile phone in Beirut, Lebanon, May 29, 2019. Secur...

FILE - A person looks at the Grindr app on her mobile phone in Beirut, Lebanon, May 29, 2019. Security agencies and government officials across several countries in the Middle East and North Africa have been using social media platforms and mobile dating apps to track and crack down on LGBTQ people, international rights group Human Rights Watch said Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

(AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

BEIRUT (AP) — Security agencies and government officials in several countries in the Middle East and North Africa have been using social media platforms and mobile dating apps to crack down on LGBTQ people, a rights group said Tuesday.

The findings of a new report by Human Rights Watch exposed digital methods of clamping down on the LGBTQ community in the region. For years the community has relied on online platforms for safety and privacy to sidestep oppression and discrimination due to social stigma and laws that criminalize their expression.

The report, “‘All This Terror Because of a Photo’: Digital Targeting and Its Offline Consequences for LGBT People in the Middle East and North Africa,” documents dozens of cases of security agencies in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Tunisia extorting, harassing, publicly outing, and detaining LGBTQ people based on their activities on Facebook and Instagram, as well as queer dating app Grindr. The publication also questions major tech companies for not investing sufficiently in Arabic language content moderation and protection.

“This type of social media frenzy really had implications on people’s lives,” Rasha Younes, senior researcher with the LGBT Rights Program at HRW, said at the press conference.

One case the report documents is a 27-year-old gay man from Egypt named Yazid who said he was arrested and beaten in prison until he would sign papers that said he was “practicing debauchery” and publicly outing himself. He said one of the officers was someone impersonating a gay man who he met on Grindr. Human Rights Watch documented several cases of ill-treatment and sexual assault among other detainees.

In some cases, private individuals and gangs were involved in the extortion. In Lebanon, some people who were extorted online told HRW that they were threatened with being outed to their families and the authorities if they did not pay them a certain amount of money.

Younes added that many of the victims lost their jobs, faced violence and deleted their online accounts, while some opted to leave the country. Many of the victims say they suffered depression, anxiety and distress, while some reportedly attempted suicide.

Mohamad Najem, executive director of the Beirut-based digital rights organization SMEX, accused tech companies of a lack of transparency on their content moderation process. Content moderation is when a company monitors what is published on their platforms to ensure they are not abusive, illegal or in violation of their rules and guidelines.

“The problem with these tech companies is that you start a process with them and they disappear in the middle of it (and) you don’t know what happened with them,” he said at the news conference.

While Human Rights Watch called on governments to respect LGBTQ rights and end the criminalization of their expression, they also called on major tech companies, notably Meta, Twitter and Grindr, to invest in stronger Arabic-language content moderation and respond more proactively to these incidents, as many of the victims who reported harassment and threats say they received no answers from the companies.

Younes said it was unclear whether tech companies are doing the best they can to protect users from online harassment and other abusive practices, especially in the Middle East and North Africa.

“In my brief engagement with platforms there is a repetition of how policies are meant to account for hate speech for everyone,” she said, but that there is “inequity in moderating content.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

The U.S. Supreme Court is seen, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Washington. The U.S. Supreme Court has h...

Associated Press

Supreme Court decision on Trump’s election status could come Monday morning

A SCOTUS decision could come Monday in the case about whether Trump can be kicked off the ballot over his efforts to undo his 2020 defeat.

22 hours ago

Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley poses for a selfie after speakin...

Associated Press

Nikki Haley wins D.C. Republican primary, her first 2024 victory

Nikki Haley has won the Republican primary in the District of Columbia, notching her first victory of the 2024 campaign.

22 hours ago

An Apache group that has fought to protect land it considers sacred from a copper mining project in...

Associated Press

A US appeals court ruling could allow mine development in central Arizona on land sacred to Apaches

An Apache group that has fought to protect land from a copper mining project in central Arizona suffered a significant blow.

1 day ago

On Friday, March 1, 2024, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said yogurt sold in the U.S. can ma...

Associated Press

Eating yogurt may reduce risk of type 2 diabetes, FDA says

Eating at least two cups of yogurt a week might reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said.

1 day ago

Arizona will not approve new housing construction on the fast-growing edges of metro Phoenix that r...

Associated Press

Arizona Senate passes plan to manage rural groundwater, but final success is uncertain

A plan to manage rural groundwater passed the Arizona Senate amid concerns about the availability of sufficient water for future generations.

3 days ago

A woman pauses while shopping at a Kohl's store in Clifton, N.J., Jan. 26, 2024. On Thursday, Feb. ...

Associated Press

Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation gauge picked up last month in sign of still-elevated prices

An inflation gauge favored by the Federal Reserve increased in January, the latest sign that the slowdown in U.S. consumer price increases is occurring unevenly from month to month.

4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.

...

Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.

...

Sanderson Ford

The best ways to honor our heroes on Veterans Day and give back to the community

Veterans Day is fast approaching and there's no better way to support our veterans than to donate to the Military Assistance Mission.

Rights group: Mideast governments target LGBTQ people online