Engendering Hate: The contours of state-aligned gendered disinformation online
This report outlines a new framework for understanding how disinformation is being used online to exclude women from public life, in the first major study into this threat to democracy. Online spaces are being systematically weaponised to exclude women leaders and to undermine the role of women in public life.
Attacks on women which use hateful language, rumour and gendered stereotypes combine personal attacks with political motivations, making online spaces dangerous places for women to speak out. And left unchecked, this phenomenon of gendered disinformation, spread by state and non-state actors, poses a serious threat to women’s equal political participation.
Through research, state-aligned gendered disinformation in two countries, Poland and the Philippines, was investigated through an analysis of Twitter data. The research found evidence of disinformation campaigns which attacked women and used gendered narratives to undermine women who oppose or criticise the state.
For the first time, researchers identified core themes of gendered disinformation, and common strategies used by those engaged in it, finding that campaigns relied not just on false information, but used highly emotive content to try to undermine their targets politically.
The report found that gendered disinformation is parasitic on news events, existing rumours, and underlying social stereotypes, and can be extremely successful in reaching a broad audience to reshape public discourse in a way that harms women.
- Gendered disinformation is being shared by state-aligned actors online – though it reaches much broader audiences.
- The way in which gendered disinformation spreads across a network varies hugely according to context.
- But the themes of gendered disinformation – the rules that it follows – are often broadly consistent.
- Gendered disinformation is parasitic on news events, existing rumours, and underlying social stereotypes, and seeks to reshape the terms of political discourse in a way that harms women.
- Gendered disinformation plays on existing tropes to try to convince people that women in public life, are one or more of: devious, stupid, overly sexual, in need of protection, or immoral: and so unfit for public life.
- Attacks on women which use hateful language, rumour and gendered stereotypes combine personal attacks with political motivations, making online spaces dangerous places for women to speak out.’
- Gendered disinformation is not just false information – it uses highly emotive and value-laden content to try to undermine its targets.
- Gendered disinformation weaponises harassment against women in public life, and tries to make them afraid to talk back.
- Women are speaking up: online counterspeech is being used by women in public life and their allies to fight back.
- Gendered disinformation should not be overlooked in responses to general disinformation. Solutions in policy and practice must recognise that disinformation takes many forms, and can vary what it looks like and where it originates according to context.
- Centralised automated solutions to gendered disinformation are likely to censor legitimate speech and overlook gendered disinformation. Input and oversight from local experts who understand the language and context in which disinformation occurs is vital.
- Solutions should centre and learn from the experiences of women who are already working to challenge disinformation: the problem is a systemic one and targets of gendered disinformation should not be expected to fix it as individuals.
- EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
- FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
- CHAPTER 1 UNDERSTANDING GENDERED DISINFORMATION
- CHAPTER 2 BACKGROUND
- CHAPTER 3 THE PLAYERS
- CHAPTER 4 THE RULES OF THE GAME
- CHAPTER 5 TALKING BACK AND SPEAKING UP
- CHAPTER 6 THE GENDERED DISINFORMATION ECOSYSTEM
- CHAPTER 7 CONCLUSIONS
- CHAPTER 8 RECLAIMING THE GAME
Authors: Ellen Judson, Asli Atay, Alex Krasodomski-Jones, Rose Lasko-Skinner, Josh Smith
This report was originally published on the Demos website.