Online harassment is an issue nearly every woman on the internet has faced. Hiding behind the anonymity of the internet gives trolls the courage to belt out sexist and misogynistic hate. So it's not surprising that public figures like female politicians are regularly on the receiving end of online hate.
Validating our hunch with facts, a recent study published by Amnesty International India, revealed that women politicians in India face a 'shocking scale' of abuse on Twitter. Titled Troll Patrol India: Exposing Online Abuse Faced by Women Politicians in India, the study was conducted using crowdsourcing, machine learning, data science, and the study also reviewed thousands of tweets sent to 95 women politicians.
The research was conducted to measure the nature and scale of online abuse faced by women politicians in India. Its findings revealed that women who express their opinions online are abused not only for their opinions but also on the basis of their identities—such as gender, religion, caste and marital status, among others.
Avinash Kumar, Executive Director of Amnesty International India noted that such online abuse on Twitter has a silencing effect on women, "Twitter was popularly envisioned to be a platform where marginalised populations, including women, Dalits and religious minorities, would have an equal opportunity to make their voices heard. While over the years the social media platform has evolved into an indispensable tool for political engagement, campaigning and activism, women are regularly and relentlessly subjected to abuse on the platform, which has a silencing effect on them,” he said.
For the purpose of the study, researchers looked into 114,716 tweets mentioning 95 Indian women politicians in the three-month period of March-May 2019 in the lead-up to, during and shortly after the 2019 General Elections in India. The women politicos featured represented diverse political ideologies and were from various different parties in India.
The analysis of the tweets revealed that 13.8% of the tweets that mentioned 95 women politicians in the study were either “problematic” or “abusive”. This means that every woman received over 10,000 problematic or abusive tweets every day. What did the analysers count as 'problematic'? Tweets that had hurtful or hostile content, especially if repeated to an individual on multiple occasions, but did not necessarily meet the threshold of 'abuse'. Unsurprisingly, the study also revealed that Muslim women politicians received 94.1% more ethnic or religious slurs than women politicians from other religions.
Amnesty International in November 2019 shared the findings of this study with Twitter, seeking to learn whether specific measures were taken to decrease the online abuse during the 2019 General Elections in India.
In its response, Twitter said that it was a 'top priority' to build a platform 'free of abuse, spam and other behaviours that distract people from public conversation'. "Twitter has made strides in creating a healthier service and continues to further invest in proactive technology to positively and directly impact people’s experience on the service,” said their statement.
However, women politicians in India believe that Twitter is failing in its responsibility to protect women's' rights online. Atishi Marlena, an Aam Admi Party leader said, "It is not the role of each woman to individually ensure her safety in public space. For example, if a woman steps out in public transport, it is the government’s role to ensure that they are safe there. Similarly, if there is a woman who is accessing social media on Twitter, it is the responsibility of the platform to ensure that it is a safe and secure space for women”.
We completely agree with Atishi and hope social media platforms, as well as the concerned law enforcement authorities, take the required measures to make the internet a safe space for women.