Coordinated misogynistic campaigns are prevalent across Europe. The solution lies in better regulation and cultural changeby Cécile Guerin / July 18, 2019 / Leave a comment
“@Anna_Soubry your gonna get the shock of your real unpleasant life when @brexitparty_uk smash u in the European elections!! You should be hung for treason.” “Piss off, you lying traitor!!!” These are only two examples of hundreds of tweets received by Change UK candidate Anna Soubry earlier this year.
Over three months in the lead up to the European elections, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) monitored hateful speech on social media and in groups online. Our research showed far-right-led, concerted harassment campaigns against female politicians across Europe, including in the UK, where pro-Remain figures were particularly targeted.
In Britain, abuse against female politicians has crystallised around narratives of “Brexit betrayal” and “treason.”
The abuse is taking place both on mainstream social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as less regulated fringe platforms like Gab and Minds, which have become havens for the far-right. Between April and May, Soubry received almost double the number of abusive messages on Twitter compared to her pro-Remain male counterpart Dominic Grieve. These included death threats and insults targeted at her appearance and gender. They rarely mention her policies. On the encrypted messaging application Telegram, we saw much the same.
ISD identified several coordinated campaigns by the far-right to humiliate female politicians across Europe. In Germany, trolls launched a coordinated effort against the leader of the Bavarian Greens, Katharina Schulze. Schulze also became a target internationally, with users on the transgressive message board 4chan sharing degrading memes.
But this is not just about viral videos. Worryingly, we have entered an age of generalised abuse against female politicians. Attacks previously confined to the dark corners of the internet and fringe far-right groups are becoming normalised, adopted by populist parties, and increasingly ordinary citizens.
The extent of this abuse represents a threat to democratic debate. As the treatment of Soubry outside parliament in January revealed, the online rhetoric can have real-world consequences.
We have seen this pattern emerging throughout Europe. In Spain, prominent female politicians experienced intimidation and harassment on the street, including Ines Arrimadas, lawyer and member of Congress for the Citizens Party in Catalonia. She found threatening graffiti painted outside her home by Catalan separatists.
These online and offline attacks affect female politicians’ ability to carry out their roles. It creates a culture of impunity when abuse goes unpunished. It can discourage women from entering politics, or cause them to leave…