Soon after Joe Biden announced last year that he would pick a woman as his running mate, Democratic congresswoman Jackie Speier began warning Facebook executives: Female politicians receive the most vile online attacks, and the company’s filters were failing to stop them.
“We showed them 20 examples that were disgusting — and they were still up!” said Speier, of Hillsborough, whose meetings included one with Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. Facebook’s response gave her little comfort. “Keep sending us these horrific examples,” she said executives told her, “and we’ll take them down.”
Speier’s concerns that the first female vice president would attract outsize assaults and venomous lies from social media’s ugliest players have now been validated. Research shows that Kamala Harris may be the most targeted American politician on the internet, one who checks every box for the haters of the fever swamps: She’s a woman, she’s a person of color and she holds power.
It’s not just the amount but the type of harassment that makes the Harris slurs stand out. President Biden gets his share of smears, but they tend to focus on his age, often repeating former President Trump’s “Sleepy Joe” moniker; a few call him creepy or worse. Those directed at Harris, however, tend to reference sex, violence or misogynistic accusations that she does not deserve her position.
“Abuse directed at women is highly personalized, often attacking them based on their appearance and denigrating their intelligence,” said Cecile Guerin, a researcher in London at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a think tank that seeks to counter extremism, disinformation and polarization. “It is also more likely to imply that they should quit politics and that they don’t belong in the public space.”
Guerin led a recent study that did not include Harris but showed that American female politicians were two to three times more likely to receive abusive Twitter comments than male counterparts.
Such findings elevate widespread concerns that women, still significantly underrepresented in political and corporate offices, will avoid or give up leadership jobs that leave them vulnerable to online abuse. “It certainly discourages women from getting engaged in politics,” Speier said, given worries about family and personal safety.
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SOURCE: Yahoo News, Noah Bierman