By Kayla Gogarty | WASHINGTON – Through their coverage and on social media, right-wing media have ramped up attacks accusing LGBTQ people and opponents of Florida’s latest anti-LGBTQ legislation of “grooming” children.
In a new study, Media Matters analyzed millions of Facebook and Twitter posts that push related anti-LGBTQ language and found this narrative initially spiked in March with anti-LGBTQ Twitter account “Libs of TikTok” at the helm, and the attacks further ramped up in April as right-wing outlets and figures with large followings further amplified the language.
Key findings include:
- News and politics Facebook pages posted at least 1,100 times mentioning “groomer,” “grooming,” or other related language between March 1 and April 18. These posts earned over 1.7 million interactions.
- Right-leaning pages dominated “groomer”-related discussion on Facebook, posting over 78% of related posts — a majority of which were posted in April.
- There were over 1.4 million tweets and retweets with “groomer”-related language between March 1 and April 18. Related hashtags, including #grooming, #groomer, #groomers, and #savethechildren, were used nearly 30,000 times.
- Anti-LGBTQ account Libs of TikTok influenced “groomer”-related discussion on Facebook and Twitter.
- In March, the most-retweeted and most-mentioned Twitter account using “groomer” language was anti-LGBTQ account Libs of TikTok. Its tweets with “groomer”-related language were retweeted over 14,600 times, and the account was mentioned in over 17,800 tweets with similar language.
- Libs of TikTok has continued to tweet “groomer”-related language in April; the account has been mentioned in over 21,000 related tweets and has been retweeted over 13,000 times.
- In April, the most-retweeted and most-mentioned Twitter account so far in related tweets was conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec, whose tweets with anti-LGBTQ language were retweeted over 68,000 times, and whose account was mentioned in nearly 79,000 tweets with similar language.
- On Twitter, the number of tweets with “groomer”-related language increased by over 60% in April, with over 870,000 tweets and retweets, compared to nearly 545,000 tweets in March.
On March 28, Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, into law. This anti-LGBTQ legislation bans discussion of sexuality or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, though its vague wording could be used to prevent such discussions — however broadly defined — at any grade level.
Following DeSantis’ signature and Disney’s announcement that it opposed the bill, right-wing media ramped up attacks through their coverage and on social media, accusing LGBTQ people and opponents of the bill of “grooming.”
In the week after the bill was signed, Fox News spent over 3 hours melting down about Disney’s response and the attacks on LGBTQ people were echoed and amplified on Facebook, with right-leaning pages earning over 6.5 million interactions on related posts during the same time frame.
The attacks echoed messaging advice from DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw, who described the legislation as an “Anti-Grooming Bill” after repeatedly interacting with Libs of TikTok — an anti-LGBTQ Twitter account that she claims “truly opened my eyes” on LGBTQ education in schools. The account has frequently singled out individual TikTok users, including teachers, for ridicule and harassment, while also repeatedly misgendering public figures and content creators and using “groomer”-related language in dozens of tweets.
Throughout March and April, Libs of TikTok also influenced Fox News prime-time coverage, as the network used the account like a wire service to source anti-trans and homophobic content related to teachers and youth and interviewed the then-anonymous account owner. Now, Media Matters has found that Libs of TikTok also influenced related discussion on Facebook and Twitter.
Since March 1, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts have mentioned “groomer”-related language millions of times and earned millions of interactions
Using Facebook data from CrowdTangle and Twitter data from the Dewey Square Group (sourced via the Twitter API), Media Matters found that news and politics Facebook pages posted at least 1,100 times mentioning “groomer,” “grooming,” or other related language between March 1 and April 18, earning over 1.7 million interactions. During the same time frame, Twitter accounts tweeted (or retweeted) at least 1.4 million times with similar language.
Right-leaning Facebook pages have dominated “groomer”-related discussion, posting 868 times — or over 78% of related posts from news and politics pages — and earning over 90% of interactions. Posts from right-leaning pages also account for 46 of the top 50 posts with such language in our data. Notably, several of the top 10 related posts were made by right-wing personalities and accuse the left, Disney, or teachers of “grooming” children:
On Twitter, right-wing media figures also posted several of the top 10 related tweets (by number of retweets), including Jack Posobiec, as well as The Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles and Candace Owens:
— Jack Posobiec ✝️ (@JackPosobiec) April 11, 2022
If you have sexual conversations with kids and hide those conversations from their parents, you are a groomer. This isn’t complicated.
— Michael Knowles 🏻 (@michaeljknowles) April 6, 2022
We are legitimately facing a pandemic of pedophilia in this country.
The courts are too soft, the institutions entrusted with our children are engaged in active grooming and many parents are too distracted to see what is plainly unfolding in our overtly, hypersexualized culture.
— Candace Owens (@RealCandaceO) April 5, 2022
- During the same time frame, related hashtags on Twitter, including #grooming, #groomer, #groomers, and #savethechildren, were used nearly 30,000 times.
- Libs of TikTok was the most-retweeted and most-mentioned user in tweets with “groomer”-related language in March
- Media Matters previously reported that anti-LGBTQ Twitter account Libs of TikTok had specifically used “groomer”-related language in 46 tweets since November 2021, with the tweets earning over 220,000 total interactions (replies, retweets, likes, and quote tweets). Using new Twitter data from the Dewey Square Group, sourced via the Twitter API, Media Matters has now found that the Libs of TikTok account earned at least 14,600 retweets in March alone on tweets that used the related anti-LGBTQ language — making it the account with the most retweets of tweets containing such language. Libs of TikTok’s most retweeted March tweets containing this specific anti-LGBTQ language are one claiming Illinois education standards are “literal grooming” and one accusing the husband of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg of “grooming kids.” These tweets earned roughly 2,500 retweets each.
- Libs of TikTok was also the most mentioned user in tweets with “groomer”-related language, mentioned at least 17,800 times in March. Verified users with tens of thousands of followers responded to the account’s tweets and increased the account’s visibility, including Chris Rufo, a primary driver of right-wing fearmongering over “critical race theory.”Libs of TikTok continued to tweet “groomer”-related language in April, with related tweets retweeted nearly 14,000 times, and the account mentioned in over 21,000 related tweets. But as right-wing media echoed similar language, the anti-LGBTQ attacks exploded across Facebook and Twitter.
- So far in April, right-wing media outlets and figures have earned more engagement on Facebook posts and tweets with “groomer”-related language than in March
- Right-leaning Facebook pages mentioned “groomer”-related language in at least 868 posts between March 1 and April 18. The majority of these posts — nearly 600 — were made in April, earning nearly 1.2 million interactions or an average of over 2,000 interactions per post. This engagement far surpassed the interactions these pages earned on its related posts in March — roughly 1,300 average interactions per post.
The 10 news and politics pages that earned the most interactions on posts with related language in April so far are all right-leaning pages, mostly of right-wing outlets and personalities:
- Fox News: 3 posts that earned a total of over 260,000 interactions.
- Michael Knowles: 9 posts that earned a total of nearly 70,000 interactions.
- Chicks On The Right: 18 posts that earned a total of nearly 60,000 interactions.
- Young Conservatives: 15 posts that earned a total of over 55,000 interactions.
- Mark Dice: 1 post that earned a total of over 50,000 interactions.
- Trump & The Great America: 15 posts that earned a total of nearly 50,000 interactions.
- Ben Ferguson: 2 posts that earned a total of nearly 50,000 interactions.
- Trump 2020: 15 posts that earned a total of over 45,000 interactions.
- Steven Crowder: 13 posts that earned a total of over 40,000 interactions.
- Dan Bongino: 4 posts that earned a total of over 40,000 interactions.
On Twitter, tweets with “groomer”-related language have increased by over 60% in April, with over 870,000 tweets and retweets, compared to nearly 545,000 tweets in March. Notably, the most retweeted and most mentioned user in April so far is pro-Trump conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec. Posobiec’s tweets with anti-LGBTQ language were retweeted over 68,000 times and he was mentioned in nearly 79,000 tweets with similar language.
One of Posobiec’s tweets was even among the top 10 related tweets in April that had the most retweets.
— Jack Posobiec ✝️ (@JackPosobiec) April 11, 2022
- Other top users in terms of retweets or mentions in related posts in April include:
- The Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles: over 26,000 retweets and nearly 27,000 mentions.
- Chris Rufo: over 25,000 retweets and over 26,000 mentions.
- The Daily Wire’s Candace Owens: over 18,000 retweets and over 18,000 mentions.
Using CrowdTangle, Media Matters compiled a list of 1,773 Facebook pages that frequently posted about U.S. politics from January 1 to August 25, 2020.
For an explanation of how we compiled pages and identified them as right-leaning, left-leaning, or ideologically nonaligned, see the methodology here.
The resulting list consisted of 771 right-leaning pages, 497 ideologically nonaligned pages, and 505 left-leaning pages.
Every day, Media Matters also uses Facebook’s CrowdTangle tool and this methodology to identify and share the 10 posts with the most interactions from top political and news-related Facebook pages.
Using CrowdTangle, Media Matters compiled all posts for the pages on this list that were posted from March 1 through April 18, and were related to the myth that LGBTQ people are “grooming” children to be LGBTQ or to engage in sexual activity. We reviewed data for these posts, including total interactions (reactions, comments, and shares).
We defined posts as related to the myth that LGBTQ people are “grooming” children if they had any of the following terms in the message or in the included link, article headline, or article description: “groomer,” “anti-groomer,” “grooming,” “groomers.”
We excluded any posts related to human or pet hygiene.
Dewey Square Group compiled and analyzed tweets containing “groomer”-related keywords, via the Twitter API. We reviewed data for these tweets, including total interactions (replies, retweets, likes, and quote tweets), total retweets, and total mentions (when a user replied to an account, tagged it in a tweet, or replied to another tweet which had tagged that account). “Groomer”-related keywords were defined as any of the following: “groomer,” “groomers,” or “grooming.”
Kayla Gogarty is an Associate Research Director at Media Matters focusing on disinformation.
The preceding article was previously published by Media Matters for America and is republished by permission.
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