Facebook and Instagram said that they’re taking steps to ban content promoting conversion therapy on their platforms, and some conservative Christians are complaining that their free speech is being violated by the social media giants.
Representatives of Facebook – which owns Instagram – told CNN Business late last week that they would be taking steps to remove content promoting conversion therapy from their platforms after users complained about Core Issues Trust, a U.K. conversion therapy organization.
“We don’t allow attacks against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity and are updating our policies to ban the promotion of conversion therapy services,” said Instagram’s public policy director for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa Tara Hopkins.
Instagram has already banned ads for conversion therapy, and now the platform says that it will stop recommending content related to conversion therapy.
Conversion therapy is a set of practices intended to turn gay or bisexual people straight or make transgender people identify as the sex they’re assigned at birth, and those practices can range from physical violence, like beatings, exorcisms, starvation, and electric shocks, to “talk therapy” intended to make the victim ashamed and blames their sexuality or gender identity on a traumatic event.
There is no evidence that it works, and plenty of evidence that it’s harmful to victims, who have an increased risk of suicide, depression, and social isolation, which is why major medical organizations like the American Medical Association recommend the practice be banned.
But conversion therapy practitioners say that they’re the victims of Facebook’s policy. Christopher Doyle, the executive director of the Virginia-based Institute for Healthy Families, told the Christian Post that the ban on conversion therapy content is an “assault on free speech and religious liberty.”
“While the company claims they are taking this action to prevent discrimination towards the LGBT community, the real people they are hurting are those who experience unwanted sexual and gender identity conflicts and are seeking options for healing and ethical, licensed therapy,” he said.
He said that he doesn’t believe that his practice includes conversion therapy, but that he has patients with “unwanted sexual and gender identity conflicts” who “feel discriminated against.” The webpage for his practice, though, refers to gay identity as “same-sex attraction,” which is language often used by conversion therapy practitioners.
Tony Perkins of the anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council said in a statement that Facebook is “beholden to the far-Left.”
“Everyone is entitled to information, Facebook has argued. Except, maybe, people struggling with their sexuality,” the statement said. “Mark Zuckerberg’s platform, along with its subsidiary Instagram, may be trying to keep those hurting users from getting the information they’re looking for.”
While there is no scientific reason to believe that conversion therapy works, there are political reasons to believe in it. If conversion therapy works, then Christian conservatives can argue that LGBTQ people are to blame if they face anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
“Conversion therapy makes empty promises,” said Jeremy Schwartz, a licensed clinical social worker in New York. “When the treatment does not work, clients often experience guilt and shame. Blame is placed on the individual, who may be led to believe they did not try hard enough.”
“The practice of conversion therapy also carries a social cost, as it perpetuates the myths that sexual orientation is a choice or that it can be changed, both of which are not true,” he said.