Building a world where LGBTQ+ people can find safe spaces to be themselves is at the heart of everything Hornet does. We are a queer tech company that builds platforms where queer life happens — anytime, anywhere — with a simple yet lofty goal: fostering places where every LGBTQ+ person feels comfortable sharing their experiences, and connecting with a community that understands and validates their life.
Those life-affirming connections only happen in safe environments.
Yet so few tech companies are willing to act in the best interests of LGBTQ people. In fact, most seem wholly uninterested in acknowledging the key role they play in our community’s physical and mental well-being. Today, heteronormative social media platforms shirk all responsibility for keeping queer people safe. They allow hateful, abusive content and behavior to run rampant. They selectively enforce guidelines and moderate content with anti-LGBTQ bias. They unfairly and with no transparency remove queer content creators outright. And they employ exploitative algorithms and artificial intelligence that unfairly treats vulnerable communities and perpetuates anti-LGBTQ biases.
These platforms have officially abdicated their duties to protect queer people, even in the face of growing attempts to marginalize us, often proliferated through the reach of technology. But here and now we pledge to use our platforms to keep the LGBTQ+ community safe.
This Safety Pledge addresses many aspects of what “safety” entails: safety from hate, harassment and misinformation; from abusive moderation policies; from fraud and malicious actors; from threats to our physical and mental well-being; from data breaches and a lack of data transparency; from exploitative technology; and from any entities, including state actors, that do not have our community’s best interests at heart.
Consider this our promise to you and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole.
Here is Hornet’s 10-point Safety Pledge:
1. We pledge to create and maintain social media platforms where hate, harassment and other abuses have no home.
No social media platform can claim to protect users’ safety and authenticity if it allows abusive content or conduct to go unchecked, and that’s why Hornet has the most LGBTQ-supportive Content & Community Guidelines of any digital platform in existence.
There is a home for all queer people on Hornet’s platforms, but never at the expense of civil discourse or another user’s safe and authentic experience. That is why our guidelines are ultimately centered around respect for other users, and why hate, harassment, threats of violence, spam, illegal behavior or misinformation are simply not allowed.
Any message, user, or piece of content on Hornet’s platforms can be reported by fellow users, which helps ensure abusive behavior is handled with zero tolerance on our apps. A report is an automatic flag for review by a combination of our community moderators, Support team staff and our own tech solutions.
It’s our guidelines, when coupled with Hornet’s world-class international Support team (boasting an average response time of less than one hour, and at least a 90% satisfaction rate), that ensure our users are truly able to be themselves.
2. We pledge to ensure our moderation policies are transparent and free from the anti-LGBTQ bias inherent to so many platforms.
Understanding that transparency is key to a positive user experience — and also what is lacking from so many digital platforms — we pledge to ensure our own procedures in dealing with problematic content and behavior are kept visible. And as a queer company serving our own community, we inherently understand the LGBTQ experience and are uniquely able to address the intricacies of our community’s language, history and culture.
We also pledge that when our own moderation efforts miss the mark, as they sometimes will, Hornet pledges to take accountability for any errors while offering our users a human-led appeals process to ensure we reach the correct decision.
3. We pledge to always combat fraud and other abusive behavior that runs rampant on many platforms.
We live in a world where digital platforms are constantly being manipulated by bad actors for nefarious purposes, and stopping those safety breaches in their tracks will always be a high priority. In addition to in-app staff and community moderation efforts, some of our behind-the-scenes anti-fraud measures include third-party services like AWS Fraud Detector, reCAPTCHA, IPQualityScore and TeleSign, all of which allow us to detect fraud, spam and bots — and take action against abuse — swiftly.
Hornet has also for many years employed a bug bounty program in cooperation with HackerOne that incentivizes community members to identify and report in-app vulnerabilities. By constantly challenging hackers to break our own defenses (and paying them a bounty when successful) we are able to remedy weaknesses before they can be exploited by malicious actors. Hornet was one of the first social apps to embrace hacker-powered security, and we consistently fix vulnerabilities quicker than any other social apps on the HackerOne platform. Today HackerOne’s CEO sits on our board of advisors, which translates to more safety for our users.
4. We pledge that our users’ physical safety will always remain a top priority.
We are extremely dedicated to keeping our users physically safe, which is why we have always employed location obfuscation and anti-triangulation measures for users around the world, which we feel is the perfect compromise between usefulness and security. (Users can of course disable location services entirely as well.) This is also why we found it important to craft user safety tips, specifically geared toward users who may live in or visit parts of the world where LGBTQ+ people are persecuted.
5. We pledge to keep users’ overall health and well-being an integral part of our legacy.
Part of creating trusted platforms where LGBTQ+ people feel safe means that our users’ emotional and physical health must be paramount. Long a frontrunner on the issues of HIV testing, treatment and prevention, Hornet’s “Know Your Status” initiative — in which users can voluntarily declare their HIV status and testing activity, can locate nearby testing centers and can even schedule exams — was a first for queer apps when it began in 2011. Other programs and initiatives, like our Health Ambassadors Community Program and in-app health-and-safety advisories created in conjunction with the world’s leading health organizations, keep our legacy of LGBTQ+ well-being alive and well.
6. We pledge to always make authenticity a key value of our products, in ways that support the unique needs of our LGBTQ+ community.
In 2019 we introduced a first-of-its-kind, machine learning-based verification system that allowed us to expand on our mission of providing authentic digital homes for queer people, where users can express all the different and wonderful parts of themselves. Based on an elaborate and dynamic machine algorithm that takes into account a user’s online activity and community-based interactions, the Hornet Badge is a unique verification system that allows for identifying genuine user profiles without requiring government-issued documents that have long been a hurdle for segments of our queer community.
We commit to continuing our work around building out-of-the-box ways for our users to have the most safe and authentic in-app experiences.
7. We pledge to protect our users’ personal data at all costs, and pledge to ensure all our users have both access to and control over their own data and privacy.
In our eyes, adequate data and privacy protections for our users means so much more than complying with data protection regimes like GDPR. That’s why in addition to consistently releasing product updates for our platforms aimed at prioritizing data safety, we pledge to never allow third parties (partners, advertisers, governments) to collect user information for tracking or surveillance without appropriate consent. We have never shared sensitive user data with advertisers, and we never will.
Further, we pledge to only collect and store data that is necessary for our business, and not information that is vulnerable to misuse — things like immigration status, political views, nationality, religion, personal health or disability — unless strictly necessary and with consent. And if we fall victim to a data breach, or if vulnerabilities are identified on our platforms, we pledge to notify users promptly of any compromised information.
8. We pledge to only rely on technology (including algorithms and AI) that does not exploit or unfairly treat LGBTQ people and other vulnerable communities.
It’s imperative to recognize that algorithms, machine learning, artificial intelligence and other tools of technological advancement are not neutral by default, and they can easily reflect cultural, social and historical biases. Hornet thus makes an ongoing pledge to mitigate unwanted bias in its products and policies through transparency and making diversity and intersectionality a key part of designing or implementing any AI systems.
Further, Hornet pledges to regularly evaluate the impact of our products, features and services — proprietary or otherwise — on various communities, and to test their impact on those communities when possible and when valid concerns or criticisms are brought to our attention.
Understanding that context is particularly important when moderating the content creation and expression of LGBTQ communities (take the case of reappropriated slurs, for instance), Hornet pledges that aside from technology being used to help surface content for review, we aim to use a hands-on, human-led approach to content moderation whenever possible.
9. We pledge to resist any overly broad or otherwise improper government access to our users and their data.
Recognizing that as LGBTQ people we often have greater concerns around privacy and data protection than the general population, we pledge that voluntary requests for user data relating to legal matters will only be entertained in emergency situations. Further, we pledge to publicly push back against what we feel are questionable or improper acts of surveillance or user data collection.
We will provide notice to individual users whose data is sought or has been obtained by government actors, except in situations when we are barred from doing so.
10. We pledge to renounce income from bad actors and queerphobic entities of all kinds, including corporate and government entities.
Hornet happily renounces any monetization opportunities from potential partners or advertisers who do not have the LGBTQ+ community’s best interests at heart. (Sorry, Chick-fil-A, we wouldn’t take your money for even the most lucrative opportunity.)
And with the ultimate goal of creating a world in which all people can be their most authentic selves, Hornet pledges to publicly denounce any and all regimes that breach international law, violate other nations’ sovereignty or actively orchestrate harm against LGBTQ people. This will sometimes mean ceasing monetization in an entire country, including through advertising, as Hornet did in March 2022 upon Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But also, the importance of keeping digital platforms open and available to LGBTQ people in militarized, authoritarian, and otherwise problematic parts of the world cannot be overstated. Digital platforms like ours are one of the few ways queer people in these parts of the world can connect to their communities, build bridges and ensure their own well-being, and we will always seek to support those users.
Hornet’s Safety Pledge was put together based on years of hard work in which we’ve made LGBTQ safety our utmost priority, but it was also crafted with the help of many organizations, partners and thought-leaders whose input and encouragement we are very thankful for.
But we also want to hear from YOU, which is why we invite you to join us on SPACES, where we’ve created the Space “Safety on Social Media” — a place for you to share your own experiences and concerns, and discuss them with the LGBTQ community at large. See you there!