Our Daughters are Listening: A Review of Recent Literature Related to the Rise of Anonymous Abuse of Female Politicians Online

  • April 15, 2021
  • Louise Vrebosch

Our Daughters Are Listening: A Review Of Recent Literature Related To The Rise Of Anonymous Abuse Of Female Politicians Online[1]

A great deal has been written, particularly since the recent U.S. Congressional campaign, studying the increasing predominance and impact of harmful language directed towards female candidates and politicians on social media platforms.

The rise of social media platforms has fundamentally changed the nature of political discourse. Never before have voters had such easy and immediate access to the political leaders who represent them, and never have political leaders had the ability to communicate so easily with voters without the filter of the media.

While this increased connectivity has benefits for both voters and political leaders, it has also provided a platform for the less desirable elements of political discourse. The immediacy and anonymity of social media means that derogatory and abusive comments can be easily shared and spread.[2]

Although few female politicians could discount the benefits[3] of using social media to connect with and mobilize their constituency without relying on traditional media[4][5], the impacts of online sexism, harassment and threats disproportionately targeted at female politicians online is undeniable. Some studies have uncovered troubling statistics:

  • Hillary Clinton received nearly twice as much abuse as Bernie Sanders[6];
  • Former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard received about twice as much abuses as Kevin Rudd[7];
  • Women in the 2020 US Congressional Campaign were far more likely than men to be abused on Twitter, with abusive messages making up more than 15% of the messages directed at every female candidate analyzed, compared with around 5-10% for male candidates (the only exception being Mitch McConnell[8]);