This New Twitter Tracker Targets Teenage Bullies' Anti-Gay Tweets

In 2009, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network teamed up with the Ad Council to build a Twitter tracker that kept tabs on how many times people tweeted out homophobic slurs a day. They promptly discovered that it was a lot. 

A Canadian campaign to combat intolerance piggy-backed on its success and published the NoHomophobes site in 2012 to much acclaim. Now, GLSEN is again returning to the tech with a new goal in mind—deterring teenage homophobia. According to the group's 2011 National School Climate Survey, "8 out of 10 LGBT students reported being verbally harassed at school in the past year." Their new campaign, ThinkB4YouSpeak, aims to hit those verbal abusers where there's an ongoing record kept of that abuse—online.

They re-tooled the tracker to make it embeddable on blogs, Tumblrs, and Facebook pages, which teens are totes obvi using to harsh on homos. Now there's a tool that tracks, in real-time, what jerks they are:

A shareable widget like this makes it easy to broadcast the fact that all that hate and reckless bigotry you're spewing out online is being recorded; it's available to the public. Whether or not teens will take to the tool remains to be seen, but it's an interesting update. I spoke with Dr. Eliza Byard, GLSEN’s Executive Director, for some insight into the project.

Motherboard: What's the ultimate goal of the tracker? How do you specifically target teens?

Dr. Eliza Byard: Our real-time tracker was designed to exhibit anti-gay language found on Twitter to demonstrate the kind of presence it has online, especially among younger users. We launched this tool as part of our larger ThinkB4YouSpeak campaign with the Ad Council to address the casual use of anti-gay language found among teens.

How is this version different than the NoHomophobes tracker that was released last year?

We made the decision to re-release our current version with specific emphasis on shareability. Unlike a website, our Twitter tracker was made to be embeddable encouraging online users to populate their personal digital spaces with the tool to heighten awareness.

Is the tracker ultimately intended to shame bullies? 

There’s no nefarious purpose behind the tracker, and we have taken steps to protect the privacy of the Twitter users and their tweets. Instead, we simply want people – especially teens – to be aware of how easy it can be to toss around anti-gay language in our day-to-day lives without realizing the impact it can have on others around us.

Do you think that if high-schoolers were more aware that their Twitter interactions were visible to the public, they would use offensive language less frequently? 

For students, tweeting has become an extension of their individual expression. But no matter the medium, the message remains the same: drop the anti-gay language because it’s offensive.

Through our campaign, significantly more teens understand that anti-gay language like “that’s so gay” is wrong. We know teens pause when they watch our TV PSAs or come across our online campaign activities. And more often than not, the message sinks in.

Have your campaigns had success in the past reaching out to youths through social media; have you seen any indication that behavior can be changed this way?

The tracker is just one part of our “Think B4 You Speak” campaign originally developed in 2008 with the Ad Council. The campaign initially employed the use of humor to engage our audience about the prevalence of anti-gay language. But we have become more direct over the years and have seen considerable impact over time.

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