Trans communities and online harms

Rachel Saunders
5 min readFeb 20, 2024
Photo by Tracy Le Blanc:

This is not an old woman shakes fist at clouds rage piece, but every time I want to talk about the possible harms of social media it starts to feel like it. No matter what angle you seek to take on social media and anyone engaging with it, the basic fact remains that the applications we use are designed to maximise engagement, keep you scrolling, and ensure you are using their app and no other. What is telling in the debates surrounding social media use is that any attempts at a middle ground seem to be too weak, too wishy washy for those either advocating for its use or advocating for restrictions. In reality even those who do not use socials are still part of the process, still there in the background, and they have become so ubiquitous that to be without them is tantamount to taking society back to the 1990s and stripping away communal connections that would not otherwise be there. For the trans community this means potentially cutting off trans and gender questioning folk from the only community they have access to.

I came of age as MySpace and Geocities emerged onto the internet. My personal profiles were bright, colourful, and reflected a version of myself I wanted the world to see. It was never the real me, simply aspects of self I pushed out into cyberspace. Once Facebook arrived I dove right in, building a large network of friends, family, and contacts, always adding more people without realising how much privacy I was giving away. It to a work incident for me to set my profile to private, and ever since I have been wary of posting anything personal on the socials that is not highly curated. My personal harm was done in naivety, not understanding what social media was capable of, something which impacts many new users of these platforms. As a trans woman I have curated my online presence more than most, to the point that my gender identity with my name attached does not mention my gender history unless you already know. Most trans folk do not do this, and many are attacked simply for being openly trans in the public sphere. Social media feeds the dog piles, the algorithms seeing any engagement as a good thing.

When online harms become pernicious is in the overlap between the need for community and the communal reaction against a person. Being trans has always had a complex overlap with societal norms, and in the pre-digital age it…