Trolls threaten to turn @lgbtqatpotomac into a joke – Nobody who cares is laughing

Tess Weinreich, Executive Editor

When @lgtbqatpotomac was created a little over a month ago, its mission was to collectivize minority experiences, increase awareness, and bring about institutional change. The account was one of several Potomac-specific activist Instagram accounts, the first being @blackatpotomac, followed by @womenatpotomac, @pocatpotomac, and @lgbtqatpotomac.

At the time, in response to a direct message, @lgbtqatpotomac’s founder wrote, “I want this account to serve as one form of education for people who want to be allies but don’t know how. I also wanted to show people like me that they aren’t completely alone. We all experience the hostile environment and we have shared experiences. There is another sense of community in that and I wanted to give people more hope.”

But now, for @lgbtqatpotomac, it seems hostility may have prevailed. In contrast to the other @atpotomac Instagram feeds, the one dedicated to the experience of LGBTQ+ students has been overwhelmed by fake troll submissions. 

In an August 4 post, a troll played on the popular movie X-Men to make a crass joke about transgender women. Another on August 7 accused the entire Potomac football team of sexual assault in an obviously fabricated claim. 

The followers of @lgbtqatpotomac have made it clear that they consider false submissions an egregious misuse of the platform. “If you’re only here to 1. make stupid jokes that aren’t funny or 2. Say someone’s post wasn’t true, then just [expletive] leave,” one contributor wrote in a post from August 8.

In comments sections and posts, followers also requested that the creator of @lgbtqatpotomac stop posting suspected troll submissions, arguing that including false reports could minimize or discredit real experiences. “You don’t owe it to anyone to provide air time and attention to bigots,” one commenter wrote on an August 4 post.

The creator of @lgbtqatpotomac held a different view, arguing that even false submissions contributed to the full picture of the minority experience at Potomac. 

“While I agree that they don’t deserve the attention, I also don’t want my account to become an echo chamber, where I post the same things and get the same sympathetic responses. I want to show everyone’s side at Potomac, bigoted as they may be. I also think that by posting these it gives everyone following me a taste of what the homophobia at Potomac really is. Rather than just hear accounts, they can actually see what people are saying as a primary source,” the owner of the account captioned the August 4 post.

According to the account’s creator, at the height of its popularity the page received around 15 submissions a day. Now, they say, they are lucky to get one. While across all @atpotomac accounts, posts per day have decreased, the creator of the @lgbtqatpotomac account believes that the drop in submissions was seriously exacerbated by trolling and false reports.  

“Honest and relatable reports prompt others to speak up and the recent responses have done the opposite of that, discouraging them to an extreme,” @lgbtqatpotomac said in an Instagram direct message. 

On August 7, in efforts to promote more credible submissions, the account creator decided to change their policy: whereas before all submitted reports were posted, the account creator no longer publishes suspected troll submissions to the feed. 

For @lgbtqatpotomac, it has been difficult to recover from the damage caused by false reports. On August 20, the account creator posted on Instagram explaining their inactivity and addressing those behind false reports directly. Since then, the account has been inactive. 

“As some of you may have noticed, I’ve stopped posting recently, this is because, to my utmost disappointment, people have stopped sending in true stories,” they wrote in the August 20 Instagram post.

“Please stop. You aren’t funny and nobody is laughing,” the post continued.

It seems, however, that this plea for an end to trolling has gone unheard; in a post published this past Tuesday @womenatpotomac reported that they too have started receiving “joke” submissions. It remains to be seen if the remaining two Potomac activist accounts @blackatpotomac and @pocatpotomac will become targets as well –if they too will be forced to go silent.

It has been a week since @lgbtqatpotomac’s last post, yet the account’s creator confirmed that this period of inactivity is temporary. They expressed that they have no intention of discontinuing the account, but that restoring the page to a “safe space” will take time.

“Fear and stigma now mask this account. I am reviving genuine reports but at a much slower rate,” said @lgbtqatpotomac. 

The account’s creator has asked that those who feel comfortable, regardless of their relationship to the LGBTQ+ community, help to rehabilitate the account by submitting questions, messages of support, or personal accounts.

“It’s all welcome but hate and false reporting will not be tolerated,” said @lgbtqatpotomac.