Homophobia Still Not Gone From Facebook, As Gaffe Shows

Facebook and the media apparently haven't done enough to combat the bullying of gay teens, if this week's gaffe by Sarah Palin's 16-year-old daughter Willow is any indication.

Sarah Palin and her family continue to provide plenty of fodder for would-be humorists on Facebook — so much that it can be difficult to find the real Palins’ profiles amid all of the spoof pages. Perhaps she’s wised up about publicity and has someone advising her to use more discretion on social networks. Today’s lesson for the former governor of Alaska: get your children media trained and make sure that includes how to comport oneself on a wide open social network.

We realize that 16-year-old Willow Palin felt nothing but loyalty to her mother when she included the homophobic slur — it begins with an “f” and ends with a “t” — to attack a male classmate who’d criticized Sarah’s reality show. Older sister Bristol saved the day with an apology for her younger sister, but neither mom nor anyone else from her political party thought to do the same.

I’m still waiting for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to make a statement on the matter, but perhaps the window of opportunity has gone. If GLAAD tackled every single ‘phobic comment by Facebooking teenagers, that would require an army of staff and the organization has a lean budget. Perhaps that’s why I’ve yet to get a return phone call or email from GLAAD about the matter. Too many other homophobes get more media attention than the youngest Palin daughter, and the elder one already apologized. It’s okay, GLAAD, I understand.

My real beef here is that Facebook’s own effort to fight bullying of gay teens just hasn’t sunk in enough. The social network site recently created a video on the “It Gets Better” theme, including interviews with employees who spoke openly about their sexual orientations and discussed how their lives have improved since graduating from high school and finding other nonheterosexuals in the real world.

Facebook presents a paradox for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered folks: there are opportunities to connect with other members of this community, but homophobic individuals also abound on the social network. Now call me a broken record for bringing up privacy settings in so many of my AllFacebook.com posts, but guess what I think nonheterosexual teens ought to do?

Perhaps Facebook could include special outreach to teens in efforts to educate the community about how to use the privacy settings on the site. I could see how doing so might create as many problems as it solves because kids could filter out their parents.

But I still think this issue provides a great example of why people of all ages need to learn how to use the privacy settings. I’m only half nonhetero, and at this point I’m old enough to have parented any of Sarah Palin’s kids, but I still don’t want anyone who comes up with my name to find me on Facebook unless we have mutual friends.

But let me nip that digression in the bud and get back to the subject of the younger Palin’s homophobia. While it’s great that the elder sister apologized, I’d be a lot more impressed if Willow said she was sorry herself. That would represent a lesson learned by someone in the age group that most needs to learn more tolerance of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people.

UPDATE: Apparently the word beginning in the letter “f” and ending in the letter “t” offended Willow’s former classmate Tre so much that he is not accepting Bristol’s indirect apology. Neither of the two Palins apologized to him directly, he told TMZ. He’s not gay, but feels that the younger Palin might be homophobic and is definitely a bully:

Tre — who tells us he’s not gay — claims he was offended by the comments and felt bullied by both women … saying, “Willow called me a f**got in front of the whole world and my family.”

When asked if he thought Willow was a homophobe, Tre replied, “I think she might be … She says ‘queer’ and ‘gay’ so much … so probably … maybe.”

Although Bristol issued a public apology through Facebook on behalf of her and Willow — Tre says he’s yet to hear from either one of them. We asked Tre if he accepted the online apology and he told us, “No way … Maybe if it was sincere and honest from them straight to me, I would consider. But it would have to be direct.”

Readers, what do you think the Facebook community ought to do about the rampant homophobia among teenage users of the social network? And how much responsibility does the site have any responsibility for policing hateful slurs in the first place? Where do you think a line should be drawn, if any?