Misogyny advances in the shadow of social media trends

Misogyny advances in the shadow of social media trends

Published on 18 Mar 2024

Internet fuels new forms of misogyny

Misogynistic attacks seek to reinforce the image that women have limitations to exercise in politics and should only perform in other spaces or roles.


Between January 2023 and January 2024, ProBox identified 74,827 mentions as gender-based attacks on María Corina Machado, divided on three main fronts: disparagement of capabilities (67%), allusions to the body (21%) and sexualization (12%).


Although the communication apparatus at the service of the government deploys defamation strategies against activists and politicians, they have not always succeeded in overshadowing the organic conversation in defense of human rights. When it comes to female leadership, these attacks go beyond manipulating conversations on social networks. Beyond tags and trending topics, women are also targeted and their participation in gender-balanced advocacy spaces is threatened.


The case of the president of Social Watch, Rocio San Miguel and the defamation attempt against her is an example of the strategy coordinated from the pro-government ranks to attack the activist, even when her arrest had not been confirmed, is the most recent example of this attempt to undermine her reputation.


A search in networks carried out by ProBox with some keywords used by the oficialismo (#RocíoNoEsSanta, Rocío San Miguel Helicoide, Rocío San Miguel brazalete blanco and Rocío San Miguel terrorista) identified 799 mentions in the period from February 11 to 17. This listening revealed that the conversation around #DóndeEstáRocío generated a greater and more authentic interaction than the activity around the hashtag #RocíoNoEsSanta, promoted by radical Chavismo, and from which it was intended to impose the narrative that San Miguel was a “traitor of the Homeland”, thus justifying her detention.


Don’t dress up, you’re not going


Rocío San Miguel was neither the first nor the last woman to be the target of attacks and defamation campaigns on social networks in Venezuela. It is enough to review the comments or search directly on the platforms for the name of any activist or woman dedicated to politics in the country, to find that most of the messages they receive, rather than attacking their role and leadership, are disqualifying or allusive to their gender.

Under this premise, ProBox conducted a previous social listening exercise on Twitter (now X), TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube together with Coalición C-Informa in the context of the 2023 opposition primaries, analyzing the most recent publications -for September 28 of that year- linked to three candidates (María Corina Machado, Delsa Solórzano and Tamara Adrián) and three candidates (Henrique Capriles, Freddy Superlano and Carlos Prosperi).


The three female candidates registered 60% more online attacks linked to their gender than the three male candidates. The constant repetition of words such as “crazy”, “traitor”, “don’t cheat anymore”, “assassin”, “sayona”, “hypocrite”, “piece of a bitch”, “how hot you are”, “slut”, “she thinks she is a woman”, “don’t get dressed, you’re not going” and many others.


Given this first finding, from the #LupaElectoral campaign and thanks to the technical support of the Interpreta Foundation of Chile, the study was deepened by analyzing the mentions around these same six leaderships between January 1, 2023 and January 31, 2024; gathering almost 12 million data, of which 9.2 million belong to women, being María Corina Machado the most mentioned online.


When the content was broken down and categorized, 74,827 mentions were identified as gender-based attacks against María Corina Machado, divided into three main areas: disregard for her abilities (67%), allusions to her body (21%) and sexualization (12%).


In the case of Delsa Solórzano, 3,794 mentions were registered as gender attacks, with allusions to her body being the main topic with 59%, followed by the disparagement of her abilities (37%) and sexualization (4%).


Tamara Adrián registered 881 mentions under this same premise but, unlike Machado and Solórzano, 74% of her mentions allude to her body, 21% are transphobic mentions, 3% are within the category of sexualization and 2% are about belittling her abilities.


While the three male candidates also received mentions of disparagement of their abilities, these referred to their political trajectory over their gender.


Without contemplation


A study conducted by the consulting firm Anova on gender-based violence in Venezuelan politics concluded that “there are significant differences in the amount of violence received by politically active women and men during the 2021 regional elections in Venezuela”.


Female political activists received 41% more violent tweets than their male counterparts. The size of the gender gap is uniform across almost all types of violent speech categorized in our lexicon; where, as in the study conducted by #LupaElectoral, smear violence the most common type of violence experienced by women. It also highlights that violence by sexualization, instrumentalization and direct violence directed almost exclusively at women.


All this evidence points to the fact that violence in social networks is also impregnated by the gender gap. “In politics, words are used that seek to disqualify women for their abilities and devalue them as people before public opinion,Natalia Brandler, a political scientist and expert in women’s rights, told El Pitazo.


The most serious aspect is that, in the face of harassment and violent messages, women have a greater tendency to inhibit their political discourse and “represent an obstacle to achieve a more balanced, democratic and safe environment for Venezuelan political discourse,” concludes the Anova study.


Propaganda versus reality


Within ProBox’s historical record of Twitter trends (now X) with socio-political content in Venezuela since 2020, civil society has driven 42.28% of the trends linked to women in this period (52 tags), but has only been responsible for 5.15% of the registered tweets (375,391 tweets apx.). This is because the ruling party has participated in this conversation and, due to the magnitude of its communicational machinery, they have generated 80.62% of the messages (5,877,479 tweets apx.) in fewer tags linked to women (33 trends).


The participation of civil society revolves around demanding the freedom of women imprisoned or detained by the Venezuelan regime with tags such as #LiberenACarol or #LibertadPlenaparaMamaLis, as well as others to denounce cases of femicides in the country through tags such as #JusticiaParaGeraldineQuintero.


In the case of the ruling party, the conversation is limited to promote propaganda on events such as Women’s Day with trends such as #WomanVanguardOfTheRevolution, #MadresDelaPatria and #WomanProtagonistOfThePatria. Under this theme, the case of the hashtag used on March 8, 2023, #ChávezFeminista stands out, which accumulated more than 2,210,000 tweets, but according to the analysis of ProBox, 97.43% of these messages were produced inauthentically; that is, they were created by “digital troops” and possible bots to simulate support to this narrative.


Between January 2020 and March 9, 2024, the opposition positioned 14 trends linked to women with approximately 52,010 tweets, highlighting topics such as a campaign against gender violence with tags such as #VzlaEnDefensaDeLaMujer, #NoMásFeminicidiosVzla and #NiUnaFemicidioMasVzla. There was also presence of tags in support of Maria Corina Machado with #MCMEsLaLider, #BarinasConMaríaCorina, #YoHabilitoAMariaCorina, among others.


Finally, the anonymous networks identified by ProBox (groups of coordinated accounts that do not have a verifiable identity) positioned 9 trends against Venezuelan women, totaling at least 25,670 tweets with the intention of attacking and discrediting them. Tags such as #FabianaEnUSA; #CorrupcionDeLuisaOrtega and #ArochaBorracha were some of those positioned in the period. Tags against María Corina Machado from anonymous networks such as #MariaCorinaEsLeopoldo with around 817 tweets and #SonTerroristas with 7,933 tweets apx.


However, the organic conversation has proven powerful and eloquent enough. Women-bashing trends have failed to remain a trend for long periods of time; however, this does not negate their seriousness. The manifestations of violence in social networks continue to have disproportionate negative effects on politically active women, which may further hinder their participation in public spaces, especially since these platforms are the first source of information for most citizens; as well as a fundamental tool for the construction of public opinion.


In the Interpreta and ProBox study for #LupaElectoral, smear mentions and positive words were analyzed. Of the almost 12 million mentions collected, around 1.7 million belong to these categories; however, positive words predominate over smear campaigns with 73% of the data collected at a general level in one year of study. This trend is repeated when studying in detail the six profiles included in the sample: María Corina Machado, Delsa Solórzano, Henrique Capriles, Freddy Superlano and Carlos Prosperi.


The problem continues to be impunity. Although the Organic Law on the Right of Women to a Life Free of Violence explicitly protects women from this type of practices, the truth is that little is happening in this regard and it is increasingly common for women to limit their participation in the digital space.


The consequences can be far-reaching. Marwa Azelmat, a digital rights expert involved in women’s rights movements and organizations around the world, says that online violence against women “is part of a spectrum of gender-based violence that prevents women from enjoying full human rights, both online and offline.”


For her part, the lawyer and coordinator of the Mulier organization, Estefanía Mendoza, points out that misogynist attacks seek to reinforce the image that women have limitations to participate in politics and that they should only perform in other spaces. Therefore, they attack them for their emotions, clothing and way of speaking, but not for their leadership.


“The closer women are to power, the more attacks will intensify. This is part of the macho system’s intention to teach women so that they do not leave what are considered their jobs and which have nothing to do in our society with politics”, said Mendoza in statements offered to El Pitazo.


Beyond Venezuela


Society has regressed in its treatment of women and the Internet is fueling new forms of misogyny. So says Oxford University linguist and researcher Deborah Cameron in her latest book, Language, Sexism and Misogyny. For some women who have a high public profile in politics, activism or the media, misogyny “has become a problem, because the fear of being bombarded with death threats, insults or rape is leading many to exclude themselves from public life or to measure their interventions because women’s language is policed,” says Cameron.


Digital macho violence is an extension of the violence exercised against women outside the Internet. The election of delegates to the Constitutional Convention represented an unprecedented event for Chile, among other things, because it was the first time that there were reserved seats for indigenous peoples and that a mechanism was used to ensure that the candidacies and the results of the election were equal.


A study conducted by Interpreta and Corporación Humanas analyzed the different forms of violence faced by women and dissidents based on their age, ethnic or racial origin, knowledge and political experience, and classified the different manifestations of violence into two main categories: discriminatory expressions and discrediting. Of the total of 257,792 publications registered, 23,967 correspond to messages with some type of explicit violence. Regarding the main manifestations of violence identified, 69% corresponded to expressions of discrimination, while 31% corresponded to discrediting. Feminist candidates were the favorite target of digital violence and collected 6,246 mentions (8.2%) with some type of explicit violence. Candidates who publicly self-identify as sexual dissidents received 1,022 violent mentions.


In Spain the situation is no different. Women politicians in the European country have been victims of disinformation and attacks that seek to ridicule them. Unlike the attacks received by their male counterparts, they are more focused on personal or physical attacks than on their capabilities as civil servants. In addition, the most recurrent theme of disinformation about Spanish female politicians is usually to attribute false statements about machismo or men in general, in order to increase the attacks on female officials.


Data access


Access to open data is key to combating online gender-based violence in all social networks, including internal policies for dealing with abusive comments and behavior and statistics on blocked and reported posts, which are not currently shared publicly. The state has a fundamental role to play in demanding transparency from social networks, believes Laila Sprejer, who led a monitor that measured in real time the online aggressions received by female pre-candidates for Argentina’s Congress on Twitter in 2021.


The key, according to Sprejer, is to improve cooperation between governments, the technology sector, women’s rights organizations and civil society to strengthen policies. There is a need to “fill data gaps to better understand the drivers of violence and profiles of perpetrators, as well as to provide an evidence base for prevention and response initiatives.”


In this regard, it also proposes to develop and implement regulations with the participation of survivors and women’s organizations; develop accountability standards for the technology sector to improve transparency and accountability on digital violence and data use.


It is considered necessary to strengthen the collective action of public and private entities and women’s rights organizations, but above all, “to empower women and girls to participate and exercise a leadership role in the technology sector, with the aim of providing valuable information for the design and use of safe digital tools and violence-free spaces”.


Finally, digital misogyny does not remain only in the networks, it has an impact on the real lives of women who receive the attacks or are exposed to them, regardless of their role in society. These types of situations are part of the invisible violence and implicit forms that make up the iceberg of gender-based violence, a tool disseminated by Amnesty International that helps to understand the depth of this phenomenon and the importance of acting in the face of the invisible and not only the explicit forms of violence.

Between January and September 2023, the Digital Femicide Observatory of the Center for Justice and Peace (Cepaz) documented 201 cases of consummated femicides and 107 cases of frustrated femicides in Venezuela. According to data from the Runun.es Victims Monitor, the percentage of women victims of violence increased from 5% in 2018 to 8% in 2022 and most of the time the cause is gender violence. Despite the seriousness of the data, none appears in the conversations promoted by officialist accounts, not even in the discourse of those who claim to take up the feminist cause.


For more information on these issues you can search for the hashtag #LupaElectoral in social networks or follow the official accounts of ProBox, RunRunes, El Pitazo, Tal Cual, Redes Ayuda, Medianálisis and EsPaja.

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