Gay Moroccans being targeted, outed by Instagram influencer
Gay Moroccans were being targeted by a Instagram influencer in an outing campaign that used their profiles in gay dating apps to be leaked online.
With homosexual acts in Morocco being illegal, gays are vulnerable for using LGBTQ dating apps like Grindr, Planet Romeo, and Hornet– especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Graeme Reid, LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch, warned that, “The consequences of ‘outing’ can be detrimental to LGBT people’s livelihoods, safety, and mental health.”
“The Moroccan authorities should immediately step in to protect LGBT people’s privacy and repeal anti-LGBT laws that can only fuel this homophobic behavior,” Reid said.
Gay Moroccans targeted in outing campaign
According to the LGBT rights group Nassawiyat, gay men in Morocco were being tricked into sharing pictures of themselves by users as potential dates. These pictures were then being shared online.
“These men are being bullied and blackmailed. With a coronavirus lockdown in place some of them have no place to turn,” said a Nassawiyat spokesperson.
The campaign was being conducted by Sofia Taloni, a transgender Moroccan expatriate now living in Turkey as well as an Instagram influencer and model.
In a series of Instagram live stream for her 620,000 followers, she told people to download dating apps to locate gay men.
“[These apps] will show you the people who are near to you. It could show you your husband in your bedroom, it could show you your son who might be in the bathroom,” Taloni said in one of her videos.
Human Rights Watch said Moroccan LGBT activists had told them that the “outing” campaign had led some families expelling LGBT people from their homes.
Sofia Taloni versus gay Moroccans
Taloni, whose account has already been suspended, did not explicitly call on her followers to out gay men. However, the men were targeted by users who cited her as the reason.
In an interview, Taloni said she did this because the LGBT community in Morocco did it to her first. She said, “In all honesty, I did not want to out them, but they started this war.”
“The Moroccan gay community shared my profile on many Facebook groups and were encouraging people to report me so that my account gets deactivated,” she explained.
“They wanted to get me killed, sharing my account with religious radical groups and telling them ‘Hey you guys, this guy is destroying our Islamic values and our society values as Moroccans’,” she added.
She admitted feeling bad “for the LGBT people who were living their lives normally, and had nothing to do with this controversy.” But she further said, “The other ones that reported me, I have no regrets whatsoever.”
However, several videos of Taloni have surfaced where she is heard making shocking statements, like denigrating HIV prevention groups in Morocco because they contribute “to the spread of queerness.”
Social media clamps down on campaign
In response to the outing campaign, social media platforms have taken action, both against the influencer and in support of the LGBT community.
“We’ve disabled the influencer’s Instagram and Facebook accounts and we’re taking proactive steps to find and remove other content like this,” said a Facebook spokesperson.
Likewise, a Grindr spokesperson said: “As we learned of the troubling reports in Morocco, we responded quickly with warning messages in both the Moroccan dialect of Arabic and French to let our users know to take extra caution at this time.”
Christof Wittig, founder and CEO of Hornet, said they are using community moderators to flag malicious profiles and algorithms to ensure users’ authenticity.
Jens Schmidt, founder and CEO of PlanetRomeo, said in a statement: “We took immediate action by sending a security message to all our 41,000 users in Morocco, we blocked all profiles created from the time this person addressed her users, and contacted Facebook to have the group page taken offline.”