Gender Disinformation–a Threat to Women Becoming Leaders

Lucina Di Meco calls herself a recovering political activist and has been promoting women’s rights for the last twenty years, working with a wide range of international social profits, foundations, and United Nations agencies. She co-founded #She Persisted after the groundbreaking study, #ShePersisted. Women, Politics & Power in the New Media World, to pursue and eventually stop gendered disinformation on social media. The study consisted of interviews with 85 women leaders in 30 countries and found that women around the world suffered online abuse and disinformation exponentially over men. When she initially did the study gender disinformation wasn’t even a recognized term. She said that she felt like she had made progress when in 2021, she heard Maria Ressa – the journalist who won the Nobel Peace Prize – call gender disinformation one of the greatest threats to democracy in her acceptance speech. Since awareness is the first step to solving a problem, Lucina felt validated having a world renowned journalist on such a public, international stage use the term and truly recognize its consequences.

Lucina calls her journey one of discovery. She became a women’s rights activist after taking a course on gender equality. She realized that many of the challenges she faced personally were common to women around the world. In addition, while serving the Italian Democratic Party – representing Italians living abroad – she found that since politics is so male dominated, women’s skills like empathy and decision-making are discounted and seen as weaknesses.

A Woman Leader Is Almost a Contradiction in Terms.

When Dr. Nancy brought up the misogynist attacks that discredited Hillary Clinton, Lucina called Hillary a “textbook case for the harms, in particular disinformation for women in politics because so many absurd stories were thrown at her, even if every one of them were disproved, it didn’t matter.” She said that there were enough to reinforce existing attitudes and distrust toward women in politics. She added that women leaders are so new in many countries (even ours) that “a woman leader is almost a contradiction in terms.” She said that “it’s a new paradigm we need to establish. And any…threat to the establishment…is enough to bring us back to old biases…that maybe women are not good enough.”

No Freedom of Speech for Women Who Are Harassed Online

Social media compounds the problem. Lucina explains that “social media platforms are designed to optimize profit at the expense of social cohesion and even women’s rights.” She says that every time you run the data, it shows that women are attacked more than men. It’s not only misogyny; it’s designed to incentivize rewards, ” hate rewards, outrage rewards, all kinds of negative content and outrageous images.” Women leaders in many fields are targeted with the goal of undermining and silencing them, ultimately eliminating them as political opponents. And it’s working. Many young women who could be great leaders and work for policies that support families and communities are backing out, refusing to be targeted and endanger their own safety or that of their families.

What is the Solution?

#She Persisted has a three-pronged strategy. Lucina says the first is to raise awareness that there is a problem and understand that the impact of that problem is preventing talented women from entering politics. Second, she says women have to work to fix the problem. “There is no way that we would have the kind of social media we have today had it not been designed by a small group of young white men.” Dr. Nancy adds that it’s being paid for by, “old white men who want to sell more products and services.” Third, Lucina says “is to advocate for better digital platform standards.” She adds that companies don’t even stand by their own standards, saying that hate speech is not allowed, when in fact it’s prevalent everywhere.

Lucina says that we also need to work with women in politics to build their “digital resilience” so they can respond to disinformation attacks and work for policies they think are important. We all need to get involved. Women working together with the men who care is the way we’ve historically made change, and this is no different.

Lucina encourages everyone to go to https://she-persisted.org/ and find what you’re comfortable doing – whether it’s raising awareness, starting a social media campaign or something else that interests you. #She Persisted is also a nonprofit (social profit), so you can donate a tax-deductible gift.

Listen to or watch this conversation to learn more about how gendered disinformation is used to threaten women leaders in many fields around the world.

Listen on Red Circle | Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Watch on YouTube

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