Mumsnet chaos as whistleblower exposes users backing ‘new Section 28 for transgenderism’

Mumsnet has referred itself to the data commissioner after a whistleblower exposed information relating to anti-transgender campaigners on the site.

The UK-based parenting forum has come under criticism over the past few months after a surge in anti-transgender rhetoric from users, led primarily by anti-trans feminist activists who appear to be using the platform to organise campaigns against transgender rights.

Users of the platform have posted hundreds of threads targeting businesses and organisations including Marks & Spencer and the Girl Guides who hold transgender-inclusive policies.

The founder of Mumsnet Justine Roberts had defended the platform from accusations of transphobia, branding critics the “thought-police” in an interview with The Times on April 15. Roberts insisted that the site was “prepared to take any potential advertising hit” rather than clamp down on the campaigners.

The comments motivated one former Mumsnet staffer, ex-intern Emma Healey, to speak out in a Twitter thread branding Roberts’ comments “bullshit” and alleging that Mumsnet staff knowingly permit “hate speech.”

Healey shared screenshots that appeared to be from both the publicly-visible forum and the staff moderation queue, including posts in which users openly called for a “section 28 on intentionally promoting transgenderism or the acceptability of a transgender lifestyle for children.”

Many of the posts are still publicly visible on the Mumsnet forum.

Section 28 was a law imposed under the Thatcher government in 1988 that banned the so-called “promotion” of homosexuality in schools. The now-repealed law was so reviled that the Conservative Party later issued an apology for introducing it.

Users of the forum also shared conspiracy theories blaming a mass shooting on transgender people, as exposed by PinkNews, and likened transgender rights groups to paedophile networks.

Healey wrote: “Labelling what goes on on MN as ‘discussion completely misrepresents what [is happening]. Whilst, yes, I wouldn’t argue that there isn’t some civil discussion, the vast majority descends into scaremongering and hate speech.

“Whilst I was at MN [Mumsnet] (Sept 17-Mar 18), there was really no attempt to keep this discussion civil or polite. Misgendering and deadnaming were completely tolerated, and the internal moderation policy would change pretty much every day.

“There were many staff members, me included, who raised concerns about what was being said on site – but it was never taken on board. Any criticism has been dismissed as a smear attempt by ‘trans activists’ rather than actually thinking about what was being said.”

Of users, she wrote: “Rather than using the phrase trans women, users would say ‘trans identified men’ or TIM constantly.

“There were threads comparing allowing children to identify as anything other than what they were assigned at birth [to] child abuse and describing being trans as contagious.

“A personal favourite was when a user argued that we needed a new section 28 so ‘vulnerable children’ weren’t educated about trans issues – but yeah it’s all just civil discussion.”

However, the whistleblower’s actions backfired – as some of the screenshots she posted to Twitter are alleged to have included the IP addresses of users, which is usually private information only visible to Mumsnet staff.

A spokesperson for Mumsnet told the Guardian that it had reported itself to the Information Commissioner’s Office over the breach.

Speaking to the newspaper Mumsnet’s chief executive Justine Roberts said: “For us this is about civilised debate and free speech.

“As an organisation we absolutely believe in the rights of transgender people to be safe, happy and supported. However there are parents (including some trans parents) on Mumsnet who also believe that there are some issues – such as the prescription of hormone-altering medication to young children, and the impact of gender self-identification on women-only refuges and other ‘safe’ spaces – that merit discussion.

Mumsnet Co Founder Justine Roberts (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

“We at Mumsnet have always strongly believe that robust, civilised debate is the best way to reach resolution on difficult issues. Some activists disagree with us on the merits of even having of debate and view it as transphobic in its own right.

“Transphobia is against our guidelines and we delete and ban users who are repeat offenders; we’ve also proactively reminded our users of the importance of abiding by our rules, and will continue to do so.”

Healey told the Guardian in a statement: “I was just mistakenly trying to do what I thought was the right thing as someone with very strong feelings on LGBTQ+ rights – and in doing so, I did something very misguided and frankly awful.

“I have definitely learnt my lesson: not only about not tweeting in anger but about the language I use, being careful what I say, the power of social media and thinking about all the potential outcomes of my actions (not just the outcomes I intend). As such, I am taking some time away from social media and will return with a hopefully more mature attitude.

“I’d like to also apologise to any users who have felt hurt, attacked or vulnerable due to my actions. I recognise that we do not agree on this issue, but I know the impact that my actions may have had on them and their mental health.”

Mumsnet was criticised by the LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, which branded the calls for the reinstatement of Section 28 “utterly horrifying.”

The group said: “It’s clear that Mumsnet Towers has an URGENT need to clean up their act. Calls for a new Section 28, suggesting teachers out kids to their parents, attacks on LGBT charities. It’s left to fester under moderation that seems to turn a blind eye at best.

“We think calls for US Republican style infiltration of school boards, removal of LGBT+ topics from SRE, outing of vulnerable kids to phobic parents is definitely in the public interest and extremely alarming.”